from Cyber Corpse #4)
father started to disappear for long periods, we went to see him every
summer. Mom and Annabelle agreed that Sandi and I should know our father,
but we all got nervous before these trips.
Our parents only lived together off and
on for two years in the late sixties, then Dad -- who everyone calls Fuzzy
-- couldn't hang with the city. It made him agro, he said. Had to split.
He was younger than Mom, in his early twenties, and didn't dig having
babies around. So he headed to the woods of Northern California and settled
in Garberville, a small town full of pot-growing hippies.
I remember our last trip to Garberville,
when Sandi and I were nine and ten. Mom borrowed Annabelle's more reliable
car and we drove 700 miles to Fuzzy's pink shack in the woods. "My little
girls!" he cried when he saw us, giving us bear hugs. "My little girls!"
He regarded Mom more suspiciously. "Are
those pumps leather, Persephone?" asked Fuzzy, a stricter vegetarian than
Mom wore one of her work outfits, a straight
black skirt, a red button-down blouse, pantyhose and pumps. She didn't
dress this way for weekends or long drives. She'd stopped at a gas station
ten miles before Garberville and changed out of her baggy T-shirt and
"Don't you have any normal clothes?" he
asked before we went to Main Street. "You look like a narc." When Mom
refused to change clothes, he wouldn't walk with her. Sandi and I satisfied
him with our straggly hair and car-rumpled corduroys. "These are my little
girls!" he exclaimed to anyone who listened. He knew everyone in town.
Mom walked on the other side of the street,
keeping an eye on us but trying to ignore Fuzzy. I could tell she was
steamed. She looked almost glamorous with her bleached hair, sunglasses
hiding her eyes, and the red shirt, walking through. Garberville, a town
of earth tones. People stared at her, maybe thinking she was a narc, or
maybe the hippie women were remembering what it felt like to wear heels,
and the hippie men recalled women who bathed and groomed.
Fuzzy took us to an ice cream shop and paid
with a $100 bill. "You sit over there, and act cool," he hissed at Mom.
She sighed and sat at the next table. "Try
to raise kids normally. It just doesn't work out," she muttered. Fuzzy
didn't buy her ice cream. She usually dieted anyway.
Solar panels heated Fuzzy's home, but since
we came on a rainy week we had no power. Dad played his acoustic guitar
by candlelight, and lots of spacey friends visited, and I didn't see him
put his shirt on all week. He was brown despite the gloom, with curly
golden hair on his chest and back.
The second day of our week in Garberville,
Fuzzy played the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour for us. The cassette tape
was worn, the batteries dying in the player, but Mom started crying and
Fuzzy held her hand. "This used to be our favorite record," she sniffled.
Mom forgot the pumps and switched to jeans that day, and Fuzzy walked
beside her through the town. The third day, we hiked to a stream in a
forest and we all swam nude in the rain. We'd never seen this side of
our mother, a throwback to those two years she spent with Fuzzy in the
sixties. They told us to go play upstream for a while, but I didn't want
to leave them for a second. I wanted to see Mom in this new way -- her
soft beige body amongst the trees, reclining on the bank against our hairy
but handsome young father. I'd never seen a naked man before, except in
the encyclopedias I snuck open whenever a substitute teacher turned off
the lights to show a film. But Mom blocked most of Fuzzy's mysterious
body with her own familiar one -- the full breasts hanging a little low,
the rounded stomach and hips, a triangle of dark hair.
That night Mom didn't sleep with us on the
floor in the front room. She disappeared into Fuzzy's bedroom, and we
didn't see her again until noon the next day. Sandi and I found stale
granola in the cupboard, then slipped out to the stream that knifed through
the back lot.
I'm glad we had that trip to Garberville
together, because afterwards Fuzzy got weirder. Sandi and I heard nothing
about him for a couple of years. I think he got busted. But next we knew
he lived in Portland, Oregon, operating a legit business: a record shop.
I was thirteen by then, which Mom considered plenty old to take a plane
to Oregon without her. She kissed us goodbye at the United terminal and
then Sandi and I were strapped in the air going five hundred miles an
hour. I'd never flown in a plane before, and tried to hide my nervousness
from Sandi. Not that flying scared her. She looked out the little window
and beamed at the clouds. "Maybe I'll be a pilot," she said.
Fuzzy didn't meet us at the airport. We
stood by the baggage claim, shifting our bags from shoulder to shoulder,
until a young woman in a wrap-around skirt, her red hair braided down
her back, stumbled over to us. "I'm Arrowroot," she said, her eyes unfocussed.
"You must be Fuzzy's little girls."
"Why didn't our dad come?" Sandi asked.
Her eyes got clearer long enough to take
a quick look around. "Too much heat," she whispered, "in an airport."
I thought it a bit chilly but didn't argue.
We followed her out the door and into a July heat wave. Arrowroot directed
us to a van she'd left in a loading zone. "Hey, you're lucky you came
back just now because we were about to tow this heap!" an airport goon
yelled from the curb as I gingerly slid across the front seat. Food wrappers
littered the van, and bits of yarn, clothes and empty baggies. I'd just
finished seventh grade, and didn't want this trash rumpling my red Calvin
Klein pants, my flowered Hawaiian blouse, or my three inch spiked Candies
shoes. Between sixth and seventh grade all the other kids had discovered
fashion, and I'd spent a miserable year struggling to catch up.
Sandi sat in the middle of the front seat,
all eagerness to see a new place. Huge trees converged on the highway
into town. Arrowroot lit a cigarette and turned the radio onto an Aerosmith
song, which I recognized because junior high school kids had to know all
the songs on the radio.
"Are you Fuzzy's girlfriend?" Sandi asked,
watching Arrowroot as she drove. None of us wore seatbelts, which made
me feel reckless. Annabelle and Mom were sticklers about belting up.
"Girlfriend sounds like property. His girlfriend,"
Arrowroot mused, looking straight ahead in a dreamy way, like she didn't
notice the other cars on the highway. "Fuzzy and I have something going."
Since Arrowroot wasn't using the rear view
mirror, I swiveled it toward me. I thought my aquamarine eyeliner and
rose blusher made me look grown up, like someone who should take a plane
alone. Last time I'd seen my father I still looked like a kid. I fidgeted
in my purple Le Sac purse for a Clinique lipstick. I'd shoplifted the
tester, which didn't really count because they couldn't sell it anyway.
Annabelle disapproved of thirteen-year-olds wearing make up, so I'd applied
most of it in the airplane bathroom, which accounted for one rosy cheek
being higher than the other.
Kids with doctor, lawyer and engineer fathers
overran Dana Junior High. But there could be advantages to a father who
owned a record shop. I imagined returning to San Diego with a suitcase
full of new 45s. He could give me all the songs they played on 13K, the
top 40 radio station, everything from "Funky Town" to "Brass in Pocket."
Arrowroot sang along to Aerosmith. The highway
swooped in on the city and we crossed a river right downtown. We rode
on a red bridge, and as I looked left I saw a whole series of bridges
linking the banks like sloppy stitches in a cut. A ship called the Valistroika
rested between bridges, beneath huge cylinders on the bank that Arrowroot
said were grain elevators.
"When I was a kid we used to sneak in there
and climb the ladders up the sides," she said. They looked about twenty
"Did you ever fall?" I asked, suspecting
"Fall?" she echoed, swerving around a motorcycle.
"Hey, will one of you kids find another cigarette and light it for me?"
Sandi fumbled around and found a pack of
Marlboros under her butt. Arrowroot pushed in the car cigarette lighter,
then pulled it out and thrust it at Sandi, who handed it to me along with
the cigarettes. Times like this she remembered I was the older sister.
I took a cigarette from the pack and pressed
it against the orange-hot end of the lighter. Nothing happened. Arrowroot
glanced over and laughed. "No, you got to put the cigarette in your mouth
and inhale. Press the lighter and inhale." I did as she instructed and
got a thrill imagining how I looked from outside myself -- spiked heels,
makeup, no seatbelt, and lighting a cigarette after flying, unchaperoned,
to another state. The cigarette caught and the awful fumes flooded my
mouth. I wanted to cough but I didn't, since it's such a cliché
on afterschool specials.
Sandi watched me, shocked, like we were
two completely separate people, a new idea for her. I handed the cigarette
to Arrowroot. She stuck it in her mouth, then pulled it out fast. "Gross!
You got lipstick on it!"
"Sorry," I muttered.
"I got lipstick in my mouth! Lipstick causes
I looked out the window at a neighborhood
of ramshackle Victorian houses. People lounged on their porches and front
steps in the sun. I saw a naked man and whipped my head around for a better
"What are you looking at?" Sandi asked.
"So what?" Arrowroot blew smoke all over
us. "Fuzzy warned me you girls were bourgeois," she muttered.
I didn't know what bourgeois meant, but
it still hurt.
She pulled into the driveway of a huge,
particularly shabby building. The white paint peeled off in strips. Sloping
balconies jutted out with all the planning of a two-year-old's Leggo creation.
Three hairy guys in tie-dyed shirts lounged on the stairs passing a joint.
"This is our pad," Arrowroot announced.
"Your what?" Sandi said.
Arrowroot sighed and jumped out of the van.
She opened the back door so we could carry our bags inside.
Two of the steps to the house were missing,
the wood rotted away. "Hey Arrowroot," the tie-dyed guys said, passing
her the joint.
"She still has one," Sandi said, confused
by Arrowroot's two cigarettes. I elbowed her to make her keep quiet.
"Who's the little beauty queens?" a bearded
guy in sunglasses asked. I didn't like how hair and mirrored lenses covered
almost his entire face.
Arrowroot rubbed her temples like she had
a headache. "Fuzzy's."
"No shit!" The bearded guy reached a dirty
paw to stroke my arm. "Hey, baby."
Arrowroot walked ahead and we rushed to
follow her inside the dimly lit building and down a chartreuse hall that
smelled like cigarettes, tuna, sweat and paint. I wondered why our father,
now a business owner, chose to live here.
We came to a door with a red X painted on
it. Arrowroot pushed and it opened -- not locked, not even closed all
the way. Even Annabelle, who believed in trying to love humanity, would
never leave her door unlocked.
But when I saw the trash inside, I realized
a burglar would throw up his hands in exasperation, unsure where to begin.
Should he pick a path through the Styrofoam coffee cups, ashtrays and
wadded up Indian print wrap skirts? He could head for the purple bedroom,
where a dirty mattress lay on the floor, half covered with clothes and
magazines. Was there a wall safe behind one of the Grateful Dead posters
on the living room wall? Not likely.
A tiny dog with a Chihuahua face and steel
wool fur bounced through the door from the hall, its teeth bared. Yap!
Yap! "Oh, shut up!" Arrowroot barked back, holding her head. The dog scrunched
up and took a tiny shit right on the living room floor. Arrowroot hurled
an ashtray at it, cigarette butts flying onto her discarded clothing,
rolling into the matted orange carpet. I looked at Sandi and my tough
little sister's eyes shone like they'd bust open with tears.
"Where's our father?" The words sounded
like I thought she'd killed him and stuffed him in the closet.
"He's at work. He's making us some bread."
These sounded like two separate activities.
"Can we see him?"
Arrowroot groaned. Sandi and I still held
our bags, reluctant to set them down in the filth. My red bag and Sandi's
blue one were probably the newest, shiniest things in the apartment. Arrowroot
made no move to clean up the dog turd.
"Can we call him? At work?" Sandi asked
softly. Fathers were a big deal to her that year. Her sixth grade class
had organized a Bring-Dad-to-School Day where kids could bring their fathers
to class. It was mean, since about a quarter of the kids didn't have fathers,
or at least not within a hundred miles. And stupid, since mostly the fathers
worked during school hours. Only three kids brought their dads: Two loser
fathers who hadn't worked for a year or two, and one cool father, an artist,
who worked any time of the day he wanted.
"He doesn't have a phone," Arrowroot sighed,
still rubbing her head.
"Is something wrong with your head?" my
kind sister asked. I already knew the answer. Something was definitely
wrong with her head.
"Why don't you kids go outside and play."
Arrowroot pushed us toward the door. Sandi tripped, trying to avoid the
dog turd. Arrowroot closed the door behind us, all the way this time,
and Sandi and I stood in the hall, still clutching our bags.
"Let's get out of here," Sandi whispered.
She ran ahead. I tried to keep up, tottering on my heels, watching the
dark carpet for things that would twist my ankles.
The tie-dyed men had left the porch. Now
two boys about my age sat out there with a battery-operated tape deck.
One had black hair, a crooked nose and a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. The other
had curly honey-colored hair waving around his shoulders, tan skin, green
eyes and a pale green embroidered shirt that looked like a girl's. He
was too cute. I froze in place. Temporary paralysis set in.
"Hi," he said, turning down some music I'd
never heard on the radio. "Who are you?"
"Fuzzy's our dad," Sandi said.
"No shit!" said the black-haired kid. They
looked at us when they talked, unlike most of the boys in my seventh grade
"Do you live here?" Sandi asked.
"Yeah," they said together. A delicate silver
chain hung around dreamboat's neck, dangling a tiny yin/yang symbol.
"What is this place, anyway?" I asked, sounding
a tad hostile. Talking to attractive boys was difficult.
"Yeah, I guessed it was a house."
"No. The House," explained my beloved. "With
a capital T, capital H. It's a kind of a commune. Lots of us live here.
"I never would have guessed you were Fuzzy's
daughter," the black-haired guy said, staring at me.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You look so main."
Sandi and I exchanged glances. "Main?" she
"You know. Mainstream," the lover of my
dreams said. If he lived in here, he might need some cleaning up. "From
the straight world."
"Do I look main?" Sandi asked, setting herself
"Yeah," the black-haired guy said. "But
in a normal way."
"Thanks a lot." I tried my best to look
good, but just reaped insults.
"Doesn't Fuzzy freak when he sees all that
green stuff around your eyes?" asked the black-haired boy. "And those
None of the boys I knew were so direct,
unless they were being mean. But these boys just seemed curious, so I
only got a little mad. I kicked my shoes off and rubbed my feet, whose
arches had assumed a new shape. "I don't know," I said. "I haven't seen
Fuzzy for more than a year. I was a kid then."
We set down our bags and sat on the stairs
with them. Their names were Moonchild and Lion.
"You're kidding," I said. How could I love
someone named Moonchild? "Those aren't your real names."
"I suppose they're real enough if everyone
calls us that," Moonchild said, smiling. I wanted to touch his honey hair,
which didn't look dirty at all. Maybe other residents of the house kept
cleaner quarters than Fuzzy and Arrowroot.
"I can't believe you're making fun
of someone's name," said my treacherous little sister, who also eyed Moonchild,
even though she was definitely a kid. "Our real names aren't main," Sandi
"Then why don't you use them?" Lion asked.
I imagined Mom seeing us now, hearing these boys trying to convert her
daughters into freaks. After all the years she tried to escape Annabelle's
influence and lead a main life.
"What's your real name?" Moonchild asked
He smiled. "And what's her name?" He tossed
his head toward me and my heart sped up.
"Solstice Alexandra. 'Lex' is for Alexandra."
"So what happened?" Lion asked. "Let me
guess. Your Mom remarried. A lawyer or something. Golf games in the afternoon.
Yacht clubs and shit." He said it lightly, but it bordered on mean.
"Our Mom is single and we live in an apartment!"
I blurted out. "Just a two-bedroom apartment near the beach." Usually
I tried to hide the fact about the apartment, because my classmates mostly
lived in houses with golfing fathers and stay-at-home mothers. At least,
the high-profile kids did. That one school year as an aspiring socialite,
I'd ignored the other apartment-dwelling kids.
"Solstice is a beautiful name," Moonchild
said. "But I like Lex, too." I smiled at him for a second before I got
shy and had to look away. I thought about washing my face. Maybe the makeup
didn't look so hot after all.
"Do you know where our father is?" Sandi
asked. I looked at her jeans and baggy T-shirt and sandals. She was definitely
still a kid. But something lurked just beneath that tan, freckled skin,
platinum hair and blue eyes. Something waited to get out, and then no
one would ever look at me again.
"The record shop's just up the street,"
Moonchild said, hopping to his feet. "Come on."
We four walked along the sidewalk, passing
old apartment buildings with names like the Charmaine and the Gryphalon.
Most of them looked like they'd once been elegant. Now skinny cats and
spacey-eyed people straggled in and out, sweating in the heat. We walked
on the shady side of the street, my heels clomping, the other three pairs
of feet silent. I felt conspicuous in that neighborhood, like an ostrich.
My bag seemed heavier with every step, and my shoulder sweated beneath
"Are these all communes?" Sandi asked.
Lion laughed. "Of course not. Most people
don't live in communes!"
Sandi shrugged. "Our grandmother and mother
were both born in a big commune. And Fuzzy lives in one."
"Far out!" Moonchild said. "Your grandmother?"
He shook his head. "My grandmother will barely talk to Mom since we moved
in here. Except to try to make her leave."
We turned a corner and came to a block of
businesses -- a health food store like the one Annabelle dragged us to
in Ocean Beach, but more rundown, and a mystery business with gloppy-looking
beige candles in the window, and then Hey Joe, Fuzzy's record store. It
looked dark inside. "Do you think he went out?" I asked, suddenly nervous.
We'd never gone to see him without Mom.
"He doesn't like a lot of light," Lion said.
This black-haired kid knew my father better than I did. Maybe Lion and
Moonchild were like sons to him, and I was just a visitor from his past,
an unwanted reminder of the main world.
Sandi walked ahead of us. She pushed the
door hard and it opened and she disappeared into the dark record shop.
I held back and Moonchild actually took my hand and smiled at me, leading
me along. I'd never held hands with a boy before. I thought of those sappy
posters of couples walking on the beach, an abnormally orange sunset in
the distance. But this was something else -- a real hand, strong and hot,
damp from the heat wave.
We filed through the door and there sat
my father, sweating on a chair in the dark, between warped and dusty records
in bins and piles on the floor. I clutched Moonchild's hand and we stood
shoulder to shoulder before Fuzzy. Sandi already sat cross-legged at his
"Hi Fuzzy," Moonchild and I said together.
"Lex, is that you?" Fuzzy peered at me.
The only light came through the blinds, from the street. "Girl, you look
different! Did you grow six inches?"
"I'm taller than I was two years ago. But
I have on heels, too." I felt like an idiot pointing my shoes out to him.
"Heels! Let's get a better look at you."
He heaved himself out of the chair like an old man, lurched toward the
door and hit the lights. We all blinked, waiting for our eyes to adjust.
When I could see again, I noticed that all the records were ancient. Fuzzy
had four bins of Grateful Dead records, three of Led Zeppelin and two
of Jimi Hendrix. When I turned back from inventorying the records, my
dreams of going home with a suitcase of cool music dashed, Fuzzy stared
at me, his mouth open. "Who are you and what did you do with my daughter?"
he demanded. I stared back in shock. "That face. Those . . . pants," he
said, dragging his red eyes down my body. "Those shoes!"
I looked at my father. His brown corduroy
pants hung tattered and unhemmed, sweat stained his dancing skeleton T-shirt.
I could hardly see his face now behind the bushy, dusty beard. Maybe if
we'd been alone I could have stood him treating me that way, but the two
guys looked on, and Moonchild still held my angry wet hand. "You don't
look so hot yourself!" I snapped.
Fuzzy blinked. His mouth opened and closed
like a fish. "You look like a teenage tramp in those shoes," he finally
said. "Take them off."
Moonchild squeezed my hand, then released
it and stepped toward Fuzzy. "Hey, Lex is OK," he said. "You're being
surface just about clothes, Fuzzy." His low voice soothed my father. Just
as I started to tell Fuzzy how lame he and his store were, how I bet he
didn't even have a Blondie record in his pathetic establishment, and that
it was 1981 not 1969, Moonchild made everything OK.
Fuzzy looked at the dank carpet and his
face reddened. He shook his head. "Persephone probably wants you to dress
like that. I bet she has you joining clubs and shopping at the mall, and
probably you'll start dating when you're twelve. How old are you now?
"I'm thirteen." I'd already taken one plane
that day, but I suddenly wanted to take another. Like I looked ten! And
weren't fathers supposed to know the ages of their kids?
"Thirteen years old." He still didn't look
at me. "Moonchild, can you believe I have a thirteen-year-old daughter?"
"Yeah, Fuzzy. And a twelve-year-old daughter,
too," he said, motioning to Sandi. "It's OK. You can handle it." Moonchild
talked to Fuzzy like you'd talk to a child or an unstable adult. A loon.
I wondered what had happened to my father in the two years since I'd seen
"Let's get some pizza," Sandi said. "I'm
"We eat our meals at The House," Lion said.
"Dinner's at six." It was only mid-afternoon.
Fuzzy had tears in his eyes and suddenly
he bounded forward and embraced me with an awful bear-hug, half sweat
and half hair. "My little girl," he said. "My little girl." I thought
he'd have to be pried off me.
Fuzzy decided to educate us about music.
We spent the entire afternoon listening to tracks off Fuzzy's favorite
bootleg Dead albums from live shows, Jefferson Airplane and Traffic. Fuzzy
played "Plastic Fantastic Lover" three times in a row because he didn't
think we understood it. I could hear Sandi's stomach growling between
songs. Lion left to look for cans to recycle, his main source of income.
But Moonchild stayed, so I stayed happy even after the sixth version of
"Truckin'." It was too hot to keep standing, so I kicked off my controversial
shoes and sprawled on the dirty carpet with Sandi and Moonchild. Sandi
and I practiced French braiding each other's hair, then Moonchild said
we could braid his, too. I'd never braided a boy's hair, but Moonchild's
reached to his shoulders. I braided it real slow, to make the experience
last. His hair felt clean and soft between my fingers. But as soon as
I finished my most exquisite braid ever, Sandi insisted on undoing it
so she could have a turn.
Fuzzy closed the shop at 5:30 and we returned
to The House to have dinner. Arrowroot was on kitchen duty, along with
Moonchild's mother, Gravity, and two bearded guys. We ate in a long room
on the second floor. People had carved notes all over the big wooden table
that almost filled the room. Under my water tumbler it said, "Roy Jackson
3 years to go 6/13/69." I kept my plate down, obscuring "Get outa here
gonna get me some pussy action."
Moonchild, who sat beside me, saw me reading
the table. "Got it from a prison garage sale," he whispered. Maybe he
was putting me on. I never heard of prisons having garage sales.
About thirty people ate dinner, including
a handful of dirty toddlers that moved too fast for me to count them.
Arrowroot and Gravity doled out the food from tureens -- brown rice, soupy
lentils, boiled cabbage. At least Annabelle's health food had some spice!
I figured The House must be pretty broke to serve a dinner like this.
Gravity looked young, though she must have
been as old as my father. Her hair slid down to her butt. She wore a shapeless,
sleeveless peach gauze dress and no bra. Her breasts pushed on the sheer
fabric and when she served the lentils I saw a wad of underarm hair. I
hadn't started to grow that yet, thank God. I wondered if Moonchild went
for hairy pits, since that's what he saw all around him.
Sandi had chosen to sit at Moonchild's left,
rather than next to me. An old bearded guy sat at my right. Lentils steamed
from all our plates, but no one picked up a fork yet. "Why aren't we eating?"
I whispered to Moonchild.
"We have to sing first."
Apparently Fuzzy arranged the dinner music.
Everyone watched him while he looked thoughtful. "Tonight," he said, gesturing
with his fork. "Tonight we're gonna sing 'Soul Kitchen.' In honor of my
two beautiful daughters over there." He swept his fork in our direction.
"We had a beautiful afternoon teaching them about our music. So let's
turn them on to 'Soul Kitchen.'"
People nodded and turned to us and began
singing a capella in a variety of keys. "The clock says it's time to go
. . . now," they began. I'd never heard the song, and didn't think I'd
recognize it if I ever heard it again. I wanted to catch Sandi's eye,
but I couldn't see her across Moonchild, who sang loudly. Maybe he was
as whacked-out as the other hippies. "Let me sleep all night in your soul
kitchen. Warm my hands by your gentle stove. Turn me out and I'll wander,
baby, stumbling in the neon glow!"
At home, Mom always asked us a hundred questions
about school over our fish sticks or frozen pepperoni pizza. But abrupt
silence followed the song. People ate, staring at their plates. "Why's
everyone so quiet?" I asked Moonchild.
"To develop mindfulness of eating," he whispered
back, despite the dirty looks of other diners. Mindfulness of lentils
and cabbage! I had the opposite need, for distraction. One of the lines
from Soul Kitchen stuck in my head: "Learn to forget. Learn to forget."
That's what I wanted to do about the limp cabbage and gloppy rice. These
people didn't even use salt!
After dinner, everyone went into the big
room adjacent to the dining hall for spiritual readings and a sing-along.
Fuzzy read the lyrics to Jim Morrison's "Horse Latitudes" and then they
rapped about how it affected their lives. Someone else read a passage
from the Bhagavad Gita, and Gravity read something from the Bible. A tie-dyed
guy denounced the Bible as main, but someone else intervened and said
it was all beautiful. When they began an endless round of "Kumbaya," I
slipped out the door. Barefoot now, I padded down the dark hall, trying
to ignore the skin of my feet treading wet spots and lumps. I went out
to the porch and sat on the middle step. The temperature had fallen fifteen
or twenty degrees and the stars shone.
I imagined what Annabelle would think of
The House. I bet I could guess, after hearing all the stories of Lomaland.
For one thing, Katherine Tingley, Lomaland's founder, knew better than
to rule out everybody "main." Madame Tingley knew about fundraising. She
knew what money could buy -- exquisite white buildings with amethyst glass
domes, trees and seeds to plant and cultivate for abundant fresh produce.
The first Greek amphitheater in America, which still stood, gleaming white
against a backdrop of Pacific Ocean. Lomaland had lavish pageants, not
sing-alongs. Annabelle wouldn't live in a cabbage and lentils kind of
I heard light footfalls behind me. It must
be some hippie sent to track me down and make me rejoin the singing. I
kept looking at the sky, wondering if one fuzzy star might be a comet
that no one else had noticed.
The hippie sat beside me and put a hand
on my knee. "Are you OK?" Moonchild asked. My knee tingled where his hand
lay. His curls almost touched my straight hair.
"Yeah. I'm fine." I only dared look at him
from the corner of my eye. "Did someone make you come find me?"
"No," he said, removing his hand. "We're
not some kind of mind-control cult. A person can go outside if they want."
I wished his hand back but of course I couldn't
say so. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything bad about you."
We stared at the dark houses across the
street. A burnt-out street lamp left us enveloped in near blackness. After
a while I felt him relax beside me. "I guess I'm pretty sensitive. I get
teased a lot at school for living here."
"You go to school?"
"I go to school! What do you think, I get
out of school just 'cause I live here?" He laughed.
"My grandmother's commune had schools on
it. The Raja Yoga Institute for grade school. They even had a university
on the commune."
"Wow! A yoga school!"
"Not really. They just called it Raja Yoga.
They learned normal stuff. Plus about karma and reincarnation and seances,
"Far out! I wish we had a school."
"Do you have any friends there? Aren't some
of the kids nice to you?"
"Some are OK."
"Do you have a girlfriend?" I blurted out,
emboldened by the darkness. Luckily, night hid my blushing.
"No." We sat looking ahead, and the dark
began to stifle me. Somewhere a cat yowled. Then Moonchild's hand touched
my knee again. And then our heads turned toward each other, slow and even,
like someone had one of our heads in each of two big hands, and we pressed
our lips together. And we stayed on the steps, kissing.
When we went inside my knees wobbled and
I felt dizzy, but happy. We held hands and Moonchild managed to propel
me inside and direct me to the door with the red X. Just before Moonchild
left me for the night, he whispered, "Will you be my girlfriend?" And
I whispered yes and we kissed and I went inside.
My father and step-old-lady, I guess you
could call her, had already retired for the night. They'd left a lamp
on, and a sleeping bag for me on the floor. I didn't see the dog turd
anywhere, and suspected it hid under the sleeping bag, but decided not
to look. Sandi's little shape lay on the couch, her back to the rest of
the room, pale hair spilling almost to the floor. I felt warm all over
and wanted to share it.
"Sandi," I whispered. "Sandi, are you awake?"
She rolled slowly over, her hair tangling,
eyes open. "Why'd you leave the sing-along?" she asked, a pinprick in
"I didn't know the songs," I said vaguely,
not wanting to ruin this floating feeling.
"Neither did I. You could've stayed anyway."
"I wanted to go outside."
"How are you going to learn the songs outside?
Was Moonchild out there teaching you songs?"
So she'd noticed his absence, and my jealous
little sister couldn't even be happy for me. "It's a free country, Sandi.
Remember, the Pilgrims came over here for religious freedom. Well I don't
have to listen to the Bible quoted at me, and I don't have to sing dumb
songs. Neither did the Pilgrims, all right?" I didn't know much about
the Pilgrims, but being a year ahead in school lent weight to my historical
"The songs aren't dumb," she murmured. I
didn't argue. "Why didn't you want to stay?" I didn't answer. "This
is what Annabelle must have had," Sandi sighed. "This is what's been missing."
"Been missing from what?"
But she didn't answer.
"I think Lomaland was a lot nicer," I insisted.
If it had lasted, I would have moved there, at least tried it out. It
sounded like paradise, like Eden before the interference. But it was gone
gone gone with its orchestra and grand round temple and rich supporters.
"The food was better," I sniffed. "And the culture. They don't have a
school here, or an orchestra. They have two acoustic guitars and a penny
whistle! And one of the guitars only has four strings! And I think they're
out of tune!"
"That's not the point." She suddenly sounded
about twice as old as me in the darkness. I didn't like this little rebellion.
We'd always agreed on things. Or, more precisely, she'd always agreed
We stopped talking for the night and pretended
sleep, but I think we both lay awake with our thoughts. I forgot about
her and just tingled, imagining Moonchild's hands on me. All over me.
But that scared me because I'd never had a boyfriend and didn't know exactly
what would happen next. I mean, I knew all about sex in theory. Mom had
explained it years ago, and we had sex education in school. But they didn't
tell me how soon people did things after first kissing.
Over the next week, The House changed me.
I woke up that first morning of my new life as a girlfriend, and I didn't
want my feet bent over those spike-heeled shoes. Nor did I dust my eyelids
with green powder, though I still applied a light coat of mascara. I left
my curling iron deep in my bag. I woke up realizing these tools of attraction
had hindered me from getting close to Moonchild. That he liked me despite
these ruses, not because of them.
The second and third nights Moonchild and
I slipped outside after the evening's activity to kiss on the porch. No
one interfered with us. The House's inhabitants recognized all people
as sexual beings. Anyway, at fourteen, Moonchild was only four years away
from legal adulthood.
The fourth night we had a group meditation
in the recreation room. For the first half hour I was totally distracted.
My back hurt and I regretted a week of missed TV shows. But halfway through
I got a glimmer of what meditation is supposed to bring -- a freeing of
self from time and place, a blending of individual into group consciousness.
Hokey as that sounds. And after that, when Moonchild and I went outside
and walked through the dark, warm streets, that feeling shrouded us. And
when we stopped and leaned against a wall and kissed, for the first time
I eluded self-consciousness. We blended together in a new way. I wasn't
just lips, a neck, some hands and a lone throbbing. We throbbed together,
almost liquid, merging. We were part of everything. He slipped his hand
inside my shirt -- the green Indian shirt he had worn the first time I
saw him -- and ran his hands over my small, tingling breasts. His hands
moved down my belly, around my waist. He kissed me while he unbuttoned
my jeans and slid a hand inside. He slipped his hand between my legs where
the hair was just beginning to grow. I clutched his shoulders because
I wouldn't have been able to stand otherwise. He only touched me for a
few seconds, then withdrew his hand and left me leaning on him, panting.
Then he took my hand and pressed it to the outside of his pants so I could
feel the bulge there. I gasped as I felt its warmth through his pants.
The pictures I'd seen in the encyclopedia, the anatomy of the human male,
hadn't prepared me for touch. He undid the drawstring on his pants and
let them fall around his ankles and stood bare-assed in the parking lot.
I snuck a look but couldn't see in the dark, so I had to reach out again.
I touched the fleshy thing, not as long or stiff as a hot dog, but with
a life of its own. It twitched in my hand and I flinched. I didn't know
what to do with it so I just lay my palm flat against it. The ease of
the meditation fled and I became fully aware that I was alone with a boy
in a parking lot, his dick in my hand, and he expected me to do something
with it. But what? I couldn't just ask him. He breathed hard. He kissed
me again but I must have felt different, stiffer. "Are you OK?" he whispered.
I nodded, though I wasn't.
"You don't have to do anything. Nothing
you don't want to do." I let go of his dick and kissed him again. But
now I wished he'd pull his pants up, sure someone would drive along and
see this bare-butted boy in the parking lot.
I worried I'd disappointed him, but I didn't
know how to ask.
He moved closer and held me and I felt his
pelvis gently moving. I could feel the lump of his dick, just barely,
through the thick denim of my Jordache jeans. I tried to recapture the
feeling from meditation, but now Moonchild and I were clearly two separate
entities who led entirely different lives in two states. I felt sad, and
put my arms tighter around him and felt his hair against my face even
though I got more annoyed the longer he stood there with his pants down.
Other nights, we only kissed. We spent our
days like kids -- at least kids of the House -- hiking in Forest Park,
riding rusty old bikes, searching for discarded aluminum cans to recycle,
listening to hippie records in the dark cool of Hey Joe. I decided I liked
Jefferson Airplane, though Fuzzy couldn't convince me that the Grateful
Dead was anything but a colossal bore.
"One pill makes you larger," I sang as Sandi
and I spent a rare moment together alone, walking through the hot afternoon
to get some ice cream with a dollar Dad gave us. Our visit would end the
next day. "And one pill makes you small. And the ones that . . . "
I stopped singing.
"I am. I'm staying at The House and I'm
going to be a vegetarian and everyone will be my sisters and brothers
and I'll go to school with Moonchild and Lion." I stopped and looked at
my little sister, open-mouthed. She'd stopped first, planted her feet
into that steaming summer sidewalk, clenched her fists. She wore Lion's
Led Zeppelin T-shirt and her hair looked stringier than usual. Fuzzy had
played us Led Zeppelin and now Sandi claimed them as her favorite band.
"We're not staying here. We have plane tickets.
We leave Saturday."
"Maybe you're leaving," she said softly.
"Maybe you're leaving. But I'm not."
Our egg had finally divided and now my little
twin, my shadow, was neither. I tried to hide my panic. "Sandi, that's
dumb. We live in San Diego, remember? With Mom. And Annabelle just down
the street. How could you think about not seeing Annabelle?"
"Annabelle wouldn't leave her commune."
"She did. Remember, that's why she lives
in Ocean Beach?"
Sandi rolled her little blue eyes. "She
didn't leave till she had to. 'Cause of the war."
"Well The House isn't your commune. We're
"Don't you want to stay?" She cocked her
head and watched me closely. The idea hadn't occurred to me. I felt disloyal
to Mom and Annabelle even thinking about it.
"I don't know. But we can't."
"We have plane tickets," I blustered.
She tossed her hair over her shoulder. "That's
so material. That's such main thinking." She looked down at the sidewalk
and pointed a dirty brown toe. "I thought you had a special reason to
stay." I hadn't discussed Moonchild with her, and it had been building
up between us all week. I tried to imagine staying here, living in the
cluttered rooms of Fuzzy and Arrowroot, going to Moonchild's school and
being his girlfriend there every day. Being teased along with him. Being
one of the picked-on school-aged inhabitants of The House. Learning all
the Dead and Doors songs so I could join the sing-alongs after dinner.
Trying thirty different lentil recipes that all still tasted like lentils.
Sandi stared at me. I'd never worried about
her tattling before, but suddenly I suspected she'd report to Moonchild
if I didn't look grieved enough about leaving him. "We can't just think
of ourselves all the time." I looked down at my own feet, also bare. "Sometimes
we have to think of Mom, and all she sacrificed to raise us. And of Annabelle.
What will she do if you're not there to water the plants? She's too old
to do everything around the nursery."
We stood for another minute, not talking,
then Sandi turned away from me and continued toward the store. I followed
I bought a chocolate ice cream cone. Sandi
got two strawberry cones, one for her, one for Fuzzy. She licked them
both to keep them from dripping on our way back to Hey Joe. She didn't
say anything else about staying, not right then.
When we got back to Hey Joe, Moonchild sat
on the floor listening to Cream, keeping our father company. "My girls,"
Fuzzy beamed as Sandi handed him the ice cream cone. After nearly a week
at The House, I understood my father smoked a lot of pot, which made him
happy but not too bright.
I sat with Moonchild and we took turns licking
the chocolate ice cream cone. While he ate it, I twisted his soft honey
hair around my fingers. Maybe it was the lentils, but he didn't have any
zits on his tan, smooth skin. I sat as close to him as possible without
sitting on his lap. I tried to imagine staying at The House. Moonchild
and I would spend the rest of the summer together, kissing on the porch
and maybe going to our special parking lot to feel inside each other's
pants. What came after that? Putting our mouths between legs. Sex.
"Why are you looking at me that way?" Moonchild
asked, his face close to mine. When he smiled his white teeth looked giant
sized. He thrust the ice cream cone at me but I shook my head. I couldn't
eat. I felt paralyzed beside him, over-aware of my body. I could feel
tingling between my legs and in my breasts. Was that just blood moving
in my body that made it tingle? Did my blood always move that way, I'd
just never paid attention? He leaned over and kissed me, even though Sandi
and Fuzzy sat just a few feet away. I wondered if his ice cream-cold lips
"Oh, here's 'White Room!' This is a classic!"
Fuzzy squealed. "Listen, girls. Just listen." He turned the volume up
I still hadn't answered Moonchild why I
looked at him that way, but he didn't ask again, so I guess he knew. I
wished Fuzzy and Sandi weren't there, that I could lock the record store
and be alone with Moonchild and "White Room."
He finished the ice cream cone in a big
bite. Maybe because there was nowhere to set it without getting up, and
he needed his hands free to rub my knees, to play with my hair.
The year before, locked in a bathroom, I'd
experimented with a hot dog. I knew it fit between my legs. And in the
bath tub I'd tried out a toothbrush holder and the handle of a hairbrush
and a trial size bottle of Vidal Sassoon shampoo. So I knew sex wasn't
just a theory, or something that only worked for other people. And I knew
Moonchild's dick wasn't as long as a hot dog or as big around as a shampoo
bottle, even trial size. So it couldn't hurt too bad. So what was I scared
Cream ended. "Best of Bread," Fuzzy announced,
standing over the turntable. "Great album, girls. You must have heard
of Bread now, haven't you?"
I didn't answer because Fuzzy seemed like
background noise to me, less compelling than station identification on
a TV set. "No," Sandi said. "We don't know Bread." It was an even dumber
name than Cream.
"Why don't you talk to me?" Moonchild whispered,
smiling. "You just keep staring at me. You're not stoned, are you?" I
shook my head. Was he teasing me? Did he know exactly how I felt but wanted
to enjoy his power over me by making me spell it out? The blood rushed
between my legs, away from my speech muscles, leaving me mute. I couldn't
say I can take a hot dog so let's go, baby. I lacked everything I needed
-- vocabulary, a place to be alone, experience. So we lay there, listening
to Bread, who sucked.
After a Jethro Tull double album, it was
time for dinner. We ate couscous and black beans which, mixed together,
would make a suitable substitute for cement. Moonchild and I went outside,
our bellies heavy with legumes.
We meandered through the neighborhood and
wound up in our parking lot again, sitting on a crumbling concrete wall.
We could see the moon in the still-blue sky. "I have something for you,"
Moonchild said, groping in his pocket. He pulled out a red, purple and
gold knotted yarn bracelet like I'd seen some of the hippies in The House
wear. "Will you wear it and think of me until I see you again?"
I looked at the diamond pattern, the hanging
threads at the ends, and thought how it would clash with nine-tenths of
my wardrobe. I nodded. "I'll wear it," I whispered and kissed his cheek.
I swung my right leg onto his lap before he could think. "Tie it on my
ankle. It will stay nicer there. You know, I wash my hands a lot." He
knotted the anklet, then kissed my ankle and my knee.
"When it falls off, make a wish."
"Falls off? I thought it lasted forever."
He just smiled and kissed me on the mouth.
Then we jumped down and returned to The House for the rest of the sing-along.
By then I could join in on "White Rabbit," "Truckin'," "Someone to Love,"
and "People are Strange."
After the sing-along, I stuck close to Sandi,
ready to be the voice of reason in any discussion. Fuzzy might be just
muddy-minded enough to let her stay. What kind of big sister would I be
if Mom trusted me to escort Sandi on a plane to Oregon, then I left her
Arrowroot didn't often go to the sing-alongs.
When Fuzzy, Sandi and I entered their apartment, Arrowroot sat on the
sofa in lotus position, a cup of herb tea cooling by her elbow, a cigarette
in her hand, eyes closed. She looked like a skinny, smooth-faced teenager.
Fuzzy swooped down and kissed her lips.
"I'm meditating," she said, not opening
"With a cigarette?" Sandi asked.
"Helps me focus on my breathing."
Fuzzy sat down beside Arrowroot, but at
a respectful distance so he wouldn't touch her. Sandi and I sat together
in the bean bag chair. The room had even more empty coffee cups and cigarette
packs than when we'd arrived a week earlier. I'd thought about cleaning
the place, but figured they'd think that a main way to show affection.
We stayed quiet, waiting for Arrowroot to
finish meditating. She dragged on the cigarette, the ash half an inch
long, and slowly exhaled. I meditated on the smoke, too, seeing it sucked
into her gray lungs, swirl around in the sacks of skin for a second, then
slowly leave her mouth and nostrils. Three separate points of departure.
A triangle. That probably meant something around here, maybe astrological.
My father watched her, too, a little smile
on his hairy face. He probably had to be happy with what he got these
days, being so out-of-date and unshaven, untidy and poor. Arrowroot might
be pretty if rearranged.
As soon as Arrowroot's eyelids raised, before
her eyes focussed, before she felt the cigarette butt beginning to burn
her fingers, Sandi started talking. "I'm staying," she said. "I'm going
to stay and I'll help you in the store, Fuzzy. I'll help you after school.
And I'll learn to cook and I'll learn all the songs. I already knew all
the words to six songs tonight, and the choruses to three more. This is
the place for me. You'll see, Fuzzy, I'm a good worker. I've been helping
Annabelle at the nursery for about five, no, six years. I'm dependable."
She beamed and begged.
I watched Arrowroot. Her brows pulled together
as she viciously jabbed her cigarette into a cola can. "Whoa." She held
up her hands to block Sandi. "Whoa. Fuzzy, this is going too far."
Fuzzy looked back and forth between Sandi
and Arrowroot, confused. "My little girl wants to stay with us for a while,"
he said. "That's cool. People come, people go. Some stay . . ."
"Your kids come, your kids go. We stay,"
Arrowroot corrected. "Some bourgeois ideas tugging at your heart, baby?"
The sarcasm in her voice dripped into the matted orange shag carpet. "You
want a nice little nuclear family, is that it? You're going nuclear on
me." As she talked her hands prodded the couch cushions, the coffee table
in front of her, searching for cigarettes. She was basically on my side,
so I threw her a pack that lay on the carpet by my knee. The Marlboros
hit her braless chest and she glared in my direction, then recognized
the missive and tore into it. She found a light and resumed the meditative
passage of gray smoke through gray lungs.
"I don't have to live in your apartment,"
Sandi persisted, steel beneath her soft voice. "I'll sleep in the music
room, and shower in Moonchild's apartment." Shower in Moonchild's apartment?
In another year my little sister would have breasts and hairs and I didn't
want her nude on a regular basis in my boyfriend's apartment. "Lion said
I can stay with him and his dad for a while. I don't care where I sleep.
I just need to be part of The House."
"Shit, this is not happening," Arrowroot
muttered. "Look, little girl. This is your vacation. A visit. This is
slumming from your bourgeois, square little life. Go home to your mommy
and your soft little feather bed and your room full of unicorns and rainbows."
She inhaled about half her cigarette. "But we're doing things, man. We're
plotting the revolution."
"But she's my little girl!" Fuzzy pleaded.
"She wants to stay."
Arrowroot whirled on him. "Yeah, and your
ex-wife will just let her, huh? She'll say 'Sure, take my youngest! No
sweat!' Not fucking likely, stupid!" I heard stereos turn on in the surrounding
apartments. Live and let live, man. "No," Arrowroot continued, her voice
dropping low. "Your little girl stays here, your ex-wife's going to send
in the heat and you'll bring us all down. Sap!"
"We were never married."
Arrowroot shook her head, staring at a Dead
poster on the opposite wall. "Your kids are on that plane tomorrow or
I split. I'm not getting dragged down by some sap like you."
I felt Sandi shuddering behind me, quietly
crying. I put an arm around her and tried to hide my look of relief.
I said goodbye to Moonchild the next morning.
He held both my hands and looked into my face and I knew I'd never be
as wholesome-hearted, open and naturally clean as him. "We'll write each
other, OK?" Moonchild said, squeezing my hands. The communal phone in
the sing-along room was usually disconnected for non-payment.
"Yeah, I'll write," I echoed, though I didn't
know what I'd tell him about my completely separate life in San Diego.
"Maybe I can visit at Christmas."
"Solstice. We celebrate winter solstice
at The House."
"OK. Well I better go before Sandi and Arrowroot
get in another fight."
"Yeah. Take care of your little sister.
She needs a group." I didn't like ending talking about her.
"I'm wearing your anklet. I'll think about
you every time I look at my leg."
"I'll think of you whenever I'm sitting
on the porch at night."
We kissed and there was nothing for me to
do but leave.
Fuzzy didn't accompany us on the tense ride
to the airport, because of the heat there. Arrowroot smoked, the radio
blared, Sandi's lips pressed tight together. At the airport, Arrowroot
swerved to the curb, slammed the brake and left the motor running while
we pried our bags out of the back seat. "Bye, girls," she said, looking
straight ahead. As soon as the second bag hit the curb, she zoomed away.
"What a bitch," I muttered. I put an arm
around Sandi. "I'm glad you're not staying with a bitch like that."
But she just watched the van disappear,
then heaved her blue bag onto her scrawny shoulder and walked into the
Mom met us in San Diego. She threw her arms
around us and carried on as though we'd just returned from the moon. How
is Fuzzy and where does he live now and does he have many . . . friends
. . . and what are they like and how did he entertain us for a whole week.
When she finally stopped bugging us long enough to look at me, she said,
"I see Fuzzy got you some . . . new . . . clothes." I wore Moonchild's
tattered green shirt and some sandals Lion had found in a dumpster. I
just nodded. Mom had been thrilled with my interest in fashion and make-up,
though she thought it came a little young.
"So what did you do all week?" Mom chirped
on the drive back to Ocean Beach. In her pink sweatsuit, gold chain with
a heart around her neck, cheap black-framed sunglasses, and permed bleached
hair, Mom looked entirely main.
"We hung out in Fuzzy's record store a lot,"
I said. "We learned about Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, who suck,
Bread, Cream, Led Zeppelin . . . "
"Fuzzy and I used to listen to those same
bands," smiled Mom, who kept her radio tuned to the adult contemporary
Sandi's broken heart prevented speech. I
kept my fingers crossed she wouldn't tell Mom how she begged to stay with
Fuzzy. I chattered so Mom wouldn't notice Sandi's silence. I didn't want
to tell her I had a boyfriend 'cause she'd probably say I was too young,
but I couldn't talk about our trip without mentioning that we hung around
some other kids in Portland, who happened to be boys. Of course, man-crazy
Mom guessed right away. "So what's your new boyfriend's name?" she asked.
How I wished I could answer with a Joe or
Tom or something normal. "He kind of has a hippie name," I mumbled.
"Come on, Lex," Sandi said. "Can't you even
say his name without excuses?" She sounded totally disgusted. "His name
"Moonchild," Mom repeated, adjusting her
shoulders. "What's this Moonchild like, Sandi?"
"Everybody loves him," she said. "He keeps
people from fighting. He took us to Fuzzy when we first got there, when
Arrowroot wouldn't even tell us where the record store was."
"Fuzzy's friend who picked us up at the
airport," I explained, before Sandi gave a definition that might upset
"What's this Arrowroot like?"
"She's mean and she smokes too much," Sandi
"Her apartment's a pigsty."
"What does she look like?" Mom had forgotten
Moonchild before I could mention his green eyes, his wavy honey hair.
"Like a hippie," I said. "Long dirty hair.
Wraparound skirts. Hairy. Out of date."
Sandi flashed me dirty looks from the back
"How old is she?" Mom asked. I shrugged.
"Nineteen," said Sandi.
"How do you know that?" I whirled to look
at Sandi, who'd probably learned a lot while I mooned over Moonchild.
"Lion told me."
"Nineteen!" Mom said, and I caught forty-year-old
Mom looking at herself in the rear-view mirror. We drove home the rest
of the way in silence, each with our separate sadness.