Summer of 1998. I was 11. It was the year my older sister, Shakrah, shaved her head and eyebrows. She started reading books about Buddhism and the occult. One day she painted a lightening bolt onto her face and pulled on shimmery spandex leggings. I walked into her room and heard the most blood pulsing music. We listened to Diamond Dogs all the way through, dancing in front of her floor-length mirror. This was my introduction to Ziggy, to Bowie. Against the stark contrast of Atascadero summer: parched, brown, bleak...there was stardust. It was a kind of unexpected hope. Beige was the enemy. Life could be weird, magical, otherworldly, but you had to make it so. Bowie taught me that. I think he taught us both that.
Halloween, 2008. There was another raging party in Long Beach. The house was an epic punk house and still might be. At the time, my on-again-off-again boyfriend (we had been together since I was 14 and he was 16) lived upstairs. I wore a pirate outfit and had bright pink hair. I wore my mom’s black boots and worried all night that someone would barf on them. My boyfriend was in one of his moods. He was a good person, but he had problems with alcohol, he might still. He was in a real dick “mood” and apparently I was “flirting” with everyone simply because I was having a good time, being sociable. I was swinging my fake sword around and yelling out horrible pirate jokes. We went to bed early, the party still ensuing downstairs. I felt trapped. I didn’t know how to live my own life or how to stand up for myself. I went to sleep in my outfit, eyepatch and all.
I awoke to the sound of a policeman on a megaphone. It sounded strange and far away, the leftover echo of a paranoid dream. Through the open balcony door I could hear the policeman repeat the same phrase over and over. He sounded ridiculous.
“Everybody up. Everybody out of the house!”
My head was buzzing. I sat up, rubbing mascara across my face. I saw the policeman in the backyard below, and he looked like a toy soldier. I nudged my boyfriend, still stunned at what I was seeing.
“Ugh?” He was still dreaming.
Here’s what happened next. My boyfriend took the marijuana that his roommate was selling and was currently hanging to dry on a milk crate and put it somewhere. I don’t know where. There was a gun too; an illegal one. It also disappeared. I remember seeing the fear on my boyfriend’s face and enjoying that. He wasn’t a dangerous person, he was misguided and nihilistic. I wanted to live my life differently. I had nothing to do with these particular dumb decisions, thanks to a period of estrangement where we did not talk or see each other for months. In that moment, I knew I wanted to leave him and I wanted to leave Long Beach. This was't what I wanted for my life.
The cops were at the staircase now, yelling.
“Wake up! Everybody up!”
I stood at the top of the stairs, my heart pounding. That’s when I saw the most glorious sight. It was my good friend Leslie, decked out head-to-toe in Ziggy Stardust outfit. She wore a bright orange jumpsuit she had made herself and had the face makeup down perfectly. Her already orange-toned hair was sprayed with neon orange dye and styled straight up, a la Bowie. She looked like a unicorn among the mess of beer bottles and people crashed out all around.
The cops could not hold back their laughter at the sight of Leslie in all of her glory. I can’t remember exactly what they said to her, but they were joking with each other in a “get a load of this one” way. In fact, I think one of the cops actually said, “get a load of this one” as she dutifully followed orders, joining a gaggle of bleary-eyed partygoers outside. Everyone was lined up on the sidewalk. Mohawks and freaks and Liz, wearing a Christmas tree costume that I maintain is still the best costume I have ever witnessed in my life.
Apparently, there had been a stabbing at the party. While I slept, the world had kept turning, and bad things had happened. We were sitting on the curb when I found out who the guy who did the stabbing was. It wasn’t a gang member who had somehow found his way into the party or even a homeless person. It was a guy I knew...someone I knew deserved to be in jail from an incident that occurred in Las Vegas in which he attempted to choke a friend of mine (I ended up jumping on him and kicking him in the crotch until he stopped, but that’s another story). The cops asked us stern questions, but no one wanted to talk. I did. I wanted to see that guy locked up. He was dangerous, possibly still is. These were the days of myspace. I told the cops to go on his myspace account, they’d find info there. The girl sitting next to me with dreads and a perma-scowl told me to “shuttup.”
To her, it didn’t matter who got stabbed or what this guy deserved. Cops were cops. For the second time, I had the thought of leaving town. These were not my people. In fact, I despised this woman who was trying to stand between me and possible justice. Eventually, the cops let us all go, but not after roughing up a few party-goers in a way that was not OK. I heard that someone filed an investigation into the Long Beach Police Department’s treatment of the case, of us. They saw as as criminals, degenerates.
I'm still conflicted about that. Now I'm not even sure I got the story right. Was it the awful guy I knew who got stabbed or did the stabbing? It doesn't really matter.
I would have been disheartened, but I had a spark of light to focus on. It was Leslie. Watching her walk down the street away from the party, away from the drama, away from people who see nothing but black and white---I felt calm and empowered. The sun was high and beating down on the asphalt as we made the journey back to her car and off to a well-earned breakfast.
Her bright orange outfit beamed like a beacon of hope. Of course, there are always two steps forward and one step back. I moved into that house under the stairs for a few months, just enough time to finish my associate’s degree in journalism from LBCC. I got my degree with very little fanfare. I quietly accepted the fact that I had done something miraculous. At least to me it was miraculous. It had taken me four years and three different community colleges to do it. I was a different person, and I had a mission.
My life has been my own ever since.