Homesick

Homesick

A Story by Raevyne

    The tires of our tired stationwagon ground over glass and scattered trash as we pulled into the parking lot of the leasing office. As soon as the car came to rest at a haphazard angle, I popped out, my boots hitting pavement speckled with mica and smashed beer bottles. The air smelled just like the cities before this one, the sounds echoing through the parking lot were just as simultaneously new and familiar. High above the churches, banks, and hotels was a hazy grey sky I could have seen anywhere.
    "What's the dour look for, Kali? We've only just gotten here!" my mother lectured as she got out of the car and stretched. "Oh look, they've got a drug store right across the street!".
    Some people are determined to see the sunshine in everything, even Baltimore.
Mother turned and walked with a brisk pace towards the door to the office, her heels clicking. I lumbered behind.
    Inside, were we met with a smiling potato shaped-woman in her 50's and her best salmon-colored pants suit. Her name could have been Barbara, Jean, or Sandie, I didn't matter to me. I'd met her before. I stared at the posters of non-denominational inspiriational quotes behind her desk and chewed my lip piercing. My mother filled out the requisite paperwork, answered the usual questions, and and handed me a coppery set of keys, one more in a series of what seemed like hundreds.
    "Can't you just smile?" Mother nagged as we headed back out to grab some bags and meet to our new one-bedroom home.
    "Can I tattoo my face?" I quipped back.
    The apartment building itself was just next door to the office. It boasted a nice facade, historical and classic. But I knew the secret to "historical" buildings- it's just an excuse for the landlords to never fix anything. Inside was a winding wooden staircase that would have been beautiful had I not learned there was no elevator. Gasping for breath and wanting to chuck my bags and my mother back down from whence they came, I arrived on the 4th floor. The narrow hallway was carpeted a pleasant mildew green, complimenting the sickly beige walls. The door next to ours was decked out in a harvest theme, fake leaves, a wreath, a straw broom all tacked to it. The owner had probably never seen a farm in their life.
    An acrylic nail poked me.
    "Well" said my mother "Don't you want to be the first to open it? It's always your favorite part."
    Sure, when I was 10. But I didn't feel like arguing so I dutifully took the key and wrestled with the lock until I got that satisfying click. That's the one things that's never the same, the locks. They all need to be coaxed in different ways. My mother darted in before me, a blur of blue and hairspray. I followed, non-plussed.
    The fresh coat of paint still smelled, but I commended the landlord's effort, even if he did manage to get a good portion of the windows too. Yet underneath the paint and my mother's alternating cooing and squeals of delight, was nothing I hadn't seen before. Why did we have to leave Richmond for this? Or Front Royal for Richmond? Or Durham? Or New Orleans? Or Austin? The list went on, and would continue in that tradition for as long as Mom had enough in her bank account for gas and a safety deposit.
    I'd never know stability, a yard, pets, a whole year at one school, long term friendships, annual traditions, anything that involved being around for more than a few months. My mother had the itch, the wanderlust. She could never stay put. I don't know if it was my father leaving, a fight with her family, or a secret addiction to something besides transience, but whatever the catalyst, it had taken over her before I had become self aware. Mom told me we were wandering gypsies (ignoring me when I informed her the politically correct term was Roma) like our ancestors, nomads. She even named me after some supposed great-great-grandmother, Kali (I looked it up online when I was 13, it's actually the name an Indian vampire goddess who wears human heads as a belt).
    If we were Roma, where was our tribe? We were no colorful band of vagabonds traveling in a caravan of our family and friends. I only fell for that fantasy back when I was a little kid who thought midnight train rides to nowhere were fun. We were not a tribe, but a 45 year old woman with nesting issues and her bitter teenage daughter.
    But the strangest thing had happened. I'd come to realize that as much as I was tired of this cycle, I too had caught the sickness. New faces got old quickly, new towns began to feel cramped after a few months. It was so twisted, hating her and resenting all the homes she had dragged me through, and yet in the back of my mind feeling the need to move along myself. I knew I couldn't just abandon ship and get a suburban dream home somewhere, because I would be just miserable. Until I knew what I wanted it would still be me, her, and the wood-panelled stationwagon.
    I looked around the apartment again. My mother was putting posters of Elvis up in the bedroom. I groaned.
    "Can I live in the bathroom?"

    It was eventually decided I could have the couch and we would get "a shower curtain or something" for privacy. It was better than sharing a room with The King and a cloud of Aquanet.
    I was re-painting my toenails black while on hold with the cable company, waiting to explain to the 3rd intern how we didn't want to a two year contract. The cracked window let in the the fresh night air and the shrieks of a woman arguing with her boyfriend in the alley.
    "Want pizza for dinner honey?" I heard from the other room.
    "Whatever" I yelled back, with my conversational prowess.
    Something slammed and angry footsteps marched into the room. It seemed that she'd chosen to take offense this time.
    "What is wrong with you today?" Asked a pair of stretch lycra calves. "Look at me when I'm talking!"
    Bother. I decided to get to the point this time. Intern number three might come back to the phone.
    "I don't want to talk about it. We have before, we never agree, so why bother?"
    Sigh from somewhere above my heard.
    "You used to love moving so much, Kali, remember? Our first night we'd get a cake and a new goldfish..."
    "Yea, well, the gold fish always died and we got your favorite cake. I hate cherries and chocolate." I noticed a smudge on one of my toenails and pulled the polish back out.
    "We can get vanilla, I don't have a preference, really..."
    I put down the polish. "Yes. Yes you do. Everything is what you want. Everywhere we've gone, everything we've done. The fairy-tale is over." I stopped myself from opening the floodgate of repressed emotion. I kicked the phone away, and got up off the floor, finally at eye level with my mom. She looked at me expectantly, waiting for what her errant teenage daughter was going to do. I turned, put on my shoes, and walked out the door.

    The air outside was chilly but damp, the humidity of summer still hanging on into the fall. I tried not to think of anything as I passed the drugstore and turned down whatever streets seemed best lit. The townhouses that surrounded me on each side were beautiful in their own dilapidated way. Almost half of them were boarded up. The remaining residents hung out on stoops and the occasional porch. I focused on the sound of my footsteps, trying to remember what you were supposed to do to seem non-confrontational but not an easy victim. I wished I had a big dog, or a muscly boyfriend. They both had the same effect.
    There was a narrow black sliver of an alley ahead, as I passed it a heard a rustling and glanced over. Briefly, my eyes met those of a homeless man, not four feet from me. I swallowed my surprise and picked up the pace. Eventually the condemned townhouses became fewer, and the street lights in better repair. Ahead, the barricade of row-homes broke and I could see cars racing en masse down a large boulevard. I stepped out into this newer, livelier territory and for lack of a better direction, turned left.
    Everywhere, there were restaurants, bars, shops,  and parking garages as well as what seemed to be an indoor mall, a regular middle class consumer's destination. I wondered if all neighborhoods in Baltimore were placed together in such odd contrast. I continued to wander along, feeling a little safer amongst the yuppies.
    To my left, I came upon a side street, it's entryway cheerfully marked with weathered electric lights strung along to spell "Little Italy". I shrugged and turned onto the street. As if I had somewhere else to be. The street was also mostly populated with restaurants Italian, shockingly enough) interspersed with brick townhouses, but the ambiance was overall quieter and fewer cars passed through. After only a few minutes of trotting along, I noticed a large group people loitering up ahead on my side of the street, outside of what seemed to be a nightclub. I was about to switch sidewalks when I heard the beat of what I thought was a familiar song, though it seemed terribly unlikely. I stopped moving and strained to pick out the tune more clearly. No, my first impression was right. A modern club was actually playing 1980'a goth rock. Frankly, I was shocked to the toes of my combat boots. My interest piqued for the first time in a long while, I decided to investigate.
    The loiterers, upon closer inspection, were all gathered in loose groups, smoking and wearing vary degrees of alternative fashion. Their ages, rather mixed, seemed to range from late teens to late 30's. The club itself simply consisted of austere black paneling and a smallish blue sign that read "Club Orpheus". I weaved my way through the smoking gallery, avoiding any direct eye contact and possibly awkward conversations. I stopped in front of the foreboding black door, about to put my hand to the knob when it opened and a girl in platforms, hairfalls, and electrical taped n*****s poured out the doorway, followed by her friens.
Nearly knocking me over, she let out a high pitched laugh and put her hand on my shoulder, more out of drunken gravitational pull that friendship.
    "Oh hey, girl, sorrryyy...didn't see you there. What's your name? I'm Lexi. Alex. Alexandra, I think..."
    "Uh, I'm Kali."
    "Kelli?"
    "Kali."
    "Kelli!"
    She was dragged away by her friends, who were quite adamant about making it to IHOP before midnight.
    The door was still cracked, so I darted in.
    The music was crushingly loud, but I was ecstatic. This was completely new territory. The population seemed divided into halves, the bar and the dance floor, On the outskirts a few people lurked, at tables and on benches. The walls were red, as was most of the lighting, rhythmically cut by the bright white of a strobe light.
    A young man with a ponytail and a poet's shirt was perched on a stool by the entrance. He looked up from his cellphone.
    "ID" he stated.
    I fumbled around in my bag for my wallet for an uncomfortably long period of time before procuring it, and taking out my generic government issued identification. Only people who can drive get a license, regretfully. The man looked at my sad little plastic card under a flashlight, nodded, handed it back, and unceremoniously grabbed my left hand and marked an X on the back with a fat black marker.
    "Congratulations, girls get in free tonight."
He turned back to his cellphone. I was dismissed.
    For a while, I wandered around aimlessly, feeling the beat of the music vibrating from the floor into my boots, trying not to gawk to obviously at everything. I eventually settled for leaning against a pillar, in a typical nonchalant (but secretly terribly self-conscious) fashion. There didn't seem to be any particular official mode of dancing. Some people simply shuffled and swayed like dead trees while other appeared to be fighting an invisible enemy with goth karate. Part of me wanted to join them, but the proposition of sidling onto the dance floor and commencing to flail my arms, all by myself, seemed far too daunting.
    I wished I had a fake ID. It was have seemed much more natural standing there if I had a drink in my hand.
    "I don't dance either" said a female voice by my ear.
I jumped back. It was a good thing I only had an imaginary drink in my hand.
Next to me was a girl seemingly my age, with a shock of bleached white hair teased into a shape reminiscent of a cumulous cloud. It contrasted sharply with her jet eyeliner and black lipstick. Her clothes were barely stood out in the setting we were in. Black, black, black, ripped something, black.
She smirked at me.
    "Nervous? I didn't mean to startle you that much."
    "No, no just wasn't paying attention..." I laughed uncomfortably.
I didn't have much in the way of "social skills" as the counselor I'd seen a few times had told me. Socially retarded, he meant.
    Cloud Girl flashed me a quirky smile and motioned to the dance floor, at a particularly lithesome dancer. She had the look of an elongated Wednesday Addams.
    "That's Carmilla. She can dance. Lucky b***h."
    "I'm Kali" I offered awkwardly, holding out my hand. Somehow I didn't believe that this cockatoo-like girl in front of me really lacked the confidence to dance too.
    "Vampire goddess, are you? Juicy" She winked. "I'm Elizabeth. Plain old Elizabeth."
    No one had ever guessed my name before. The song ended and Carmilla/Wednesday Addams came over our way, pale chest heaving with exhaustion, but an exultant smile on her face. She flopped down on a vacant chair.
    "Why won't you ever join me? Do you hate post-apocolyptic deathrock electronica that much?" Carmilla swept a black finger-nailed hand across her brow, and glanced over at me. "You hate dancing too, I suppose?"
    I blushed and nodded.
    "This is Kali. We been over here talking about your lanky arse."
    Carmilla flashed me a smile and gave Elizabeth the finger.
    "Well, if there is to be no reveling from the two of you this night, shall we proceed to get the hell out of here?"
    I shrugged, feeling unhelpful. Elizabeth sighed exaggeratedly.
    "Where to instead, illustrious leader?"
    "Hmm, coffee again, I supposed. Everywhere has coffee. You know a place Kali?"
    "Uh, no, sorry...just moved here."
    "Really? Us too."
     Carmilla stood up and straightened her corset, brushing off imaginary dust.
     "If that is the case" She said "let us venture out in the night and see what sordid diner finds us!"
    And so we did.

    Our grand venue for the imbibing of expresso turned out to be Jerry's 24 Hour Deli on Lexington street. It was as good as anywhere, and better than home. And my dollar's worth of coffee wasn't terrible either. I found myself feeling at ease with Elizabeth's and Carmilla's bizarre repartee, comfortable to sit between them and listen without feeling left out. As it turned out, they had traveled across the country at an even more alarming rate than I. In fact, they rarely ever leased apartments and preferred to live in motels and the like. I had even been regaled with a few alarming stories of New Orleans hostels. They seem liberated rather than weighted down by their perpetual transience.
    I stared at the empty cup in front of me, content in the warmth of the indoors and the fluorescent light, and the chatter of these two odd companions.
    Presently a waitress came to refill our coffees, before darting away as if teased hair and spiked bracelets were contagious.
    I was prodded by an elbow.
    "Kali, care to come, uh, powder your nose?" Elizabeth grinned at me.
I laughed and let her drag me along. I wouldn't want to be alone in a Baltimore city public bathroom either. We ducked through tables to the foreboding doorway, both pinching our noses and rolling our eyes once inside. It wasn't the worst I'd seen, to it's credit. Only one of the stall doors had been replaced with a shower curtain, though the smell of feet was pretty strong.
    "You'd think they'd spend the big money and go with cardboard" I remarked, peering at my reflection in the dingy , soap-stained mirror. Everything seemed in order, my eyeliner hadn't migrated to my cheek. I glanced over and noticed Elizabeth looking at me with an odd expression on her face.
I turned around to face her, questioning.
    "Kali..." She began, stepping closer.
I noticed how close our faces had gotten. She smelled like bubble-gum and hair gel. My mind reeled. Was this going were I thought it was? The last time I'd kissed a girl was behind the gym in middle school, before my mother started home-schooling me. That girl had braces and tuna fish on her shirt, but Elizabeth...she was  cloud-hair, glitter eyeshadow and licorice lipstick.
    Our noses met, then our mouths and I forgot that we were in a public bathroom at two in the morning, for a moment, this strange girl was all I knew. My revery was interrupted by feeling those black lips on my neck. I tried to step back. Why was it that were we kissing in a bathroom that smelled like feet?
    "Wait, Elizabeth..." I started, but a wave of dizziness sloshed through my brain. I opened my eyes to tunnel vision. My hands grabbed her shoulders for ballast. My legs began to shake, and still her mouth stayed on my neck. Just as I could no longer stand, she drew back, letting me go as I slid down the wall. I strained to make out her face through the blackness. Her lips were red like cherries. Wait, that was wrong, they should have been black...I lifted a leaden arm to touch my neck, and felt wetness. My pulse beat in my eyes and the roof of my mouth. I was sinking, my eyes closed.
I heard her sit down next to me, and felt her hand stroke my hair.
    "Don't worry" she whispered. "You'll thank me eventually, you'll see..."

    My boots crunched over glass and scattered trash as I strode towards the row of townhouses, their facade warped by the shadows cast by the orange glare of street lights. The air smelled just like all cities seem to, the sounds echoing through the parking lot were just as they would always would sound. The churches, banks, and hotels sat in silent darkness of early morning.
    The front door easily gave way to me and I continued at the same quick pace up the stairs until I found our door, no, her door.
    I hear drunken laughter from inside. I barged inside, gritting my teeth.
    My mother and a man I didn't know were on the couch. My mother was in fine form, hanging all over him, talking too loudly, touching his knee with one hand, holding a glass of Merlot with the other.
    They turned towards the door, surprise and guilt written on their faces like two teenagers that had been caught making out behind a church.
    "Kali!" My mother cried.
    "You have a daughter?" Asked the man, turning to her. He was probably just grateful I wasn't a husband.
    "You should leave." I said, glancing at him. Middle-aged, sagging around the middle, but at least he had hair. Mother wouldn't have called him again anyway.
    "Kali, you have no right to talk like that! You just disappeared for two days, what was I supposed to do? I get lonely!"  Mother huffed indignantly, face flushed with indignation and schnapps.
    "Maybe...maybe I really should go, baby..." Mumbled her friend, already putting on his loafers.
He hurried out the door past me, my mother protesting until I shut the door behind him with a extra force.
    We were left alone to stare at each-other in uncomfortable silence. My mother's updo had begun to defy the extra hold hairspray, stray tendrils fluttering around her face. Her mascara was running slightly, collecting in her crow's feet. She looked at me strangely, and as if noticing something she hadn't seen before.
    Letting out a sniffle, she crossed the room arms out to hug me.
    "Oh, Kali, I was so worried..." She began, but recoiled as soon as her hands touched my arms. "You're so cold! What's wrong with you?"
    I ignored her indelicate phrasing. "Mother, I haven't come back to you. I'm only saying goodbye."
    "What? You can't be serious! You're only just 18, you can't leave! I need you, don't you need me? It was horrible here without you, I don't like this city, we can find a new one-"
    "No." I tried to keep myself getting frustrated and turning this into just another of our fights. "No, you don't need me, you need to find some help so you can live with yourself. I can't be your crutch. I am not going to be in the back-seat anymore, and you could never live with that."
    "Please, please don't do this, we can talk about it, I promise" She began to sob, collapsing on the couch.     I kept the pity out of my heart, staying resolute. I watched until I couldn't take it anymore.
    "It's too late now" I said quietly. I turned and left, walking out on her for the second time, the last time.
    I slipped down the hallway, and down the stairs, head bowed as if trying to hide my shame from the walls themselves.     Everything I did from now on, starting tonight, would be mine to own. There wasn't anyone else's shadow to stand in.
    The night air immediately lifted my spirits. The breeze buffeted my face and a strange, exuberant feeling began to crowd out my sadness.
    At the corner, a unassuming sedan was parked, still running, Inside were two figures. One turned and waved at me through the rear window, gesturing that I should hurry up. She had a halo of white cotton-candy hair, and a cheeky grin.
     The feeling rose in my chest and spread to my face. For the first time in a long, long while, I smiled. I was free.

© 2010 Raevyne


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Added on December 21, 2010
Last Updated on December 21, 2010

Author

Raevyne
Raevyne

Baltimore, MD



About
A strange, pale creature with red plumage and black war paint. It consumes copious amounts of diet coke and cloves, occasionally regurgitating artistic things. It squeaks when threatened. more..

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