Its strange, isn’t it? The way brief periods of time can carve such a permanent etching into our world.
Within the first night of living on my own, I witnessed a stabbing outside of the bar across the street. I was standing at the window of my apartment when it happened. It was all very fast and movie-like. Even after the police and ambulance had come and gone, I don’t think it actually seemed real to me until the next day when I saw the blood on the sidewalk. At the sight of that, some sick feeling stirred inside of me. A chill of realization that this was real life and I had to be an adult. I had to look after myself, or something really terrible could happen. That realization made me feel afraid, a sick kind of fear that I had never felt before, at least not to such an extent.
My best friend and I had rented a tiny dump from a landlady that threatened to evict us if we ever had ‘men-friends’ over. She didn’t hesitate to tell us it was because she believed we may be prostitutes, since there had been several living in her building throughout the years and she was finished with renting to ‘that sort of women’. Out of desperation to find a cheap place quickly, rather than telling her what she could do with her dumpy apartment, we took the place : A furnished one bedroom for 75.00/week. From the moment we had the key to our new place, we really believed we were going to be living a rock n’ roll Sunset Strip scenario, with night-life that actually lasted ALL night, 24-hour diners and the constant stream of traffic and pedestrians. In the first few days, this ‘exciting’ new life seemed worth the violence I had witnessed on my first night there.
We settled in quickly and was pleased with our tiny place… until a rumor about me was brought to my attention by a sweet 17-year-old street-kid. Once we moved in, we discovered that there were a lot of kids living on the streets in that area, and the things they had to do for a meal or a place to sleep was honestly beyond what you might already assume they were expected to do. The rumor had been started by a tiny little guy who hung outside of our building and tried chatting me up every time I left the apartment. He had introduced himself as The Bad-Assed Chicano and because he ‘had experienced love at first sight with me, we needed to have a serious talk right away’. Initially I had laughed this off, but then he began yelling things up to our windows, which was a little disconcerting and no longer flattering.
The street kid had come to tell me about this rumor and walked with me to confront Mr. Chicano. This resulted in a loud confrontation between the two of them when Badass denied saying anything derogatory about me and called the kid a liar. That remark escalated into a very bloody fight, and that fight resulted in the nice guy soon bleeding all over our pink-themed dumpy bathroom, (Yes, the bathtub, sink and even the toilet were pink, as if the room had been designed for the apparent previous tenants that had entertained their ‘men-friends’.) That was the last I heard from Badass Chicano, which was a relief, because before the punching & bleeding began, he again confessed his love and asked me to move to Arizona, have his babies and help him run a chicken farm…Later in life, chicken-farming would once again be proposed by another man. [Seriously, what is it about chicken-farming that’s so appealing?] Nevertheless, helping this kid clean up his face and then scrubbing his blood out of our pink bathroom carpet once again shook something in me…seeing this act made life seem harsher than I had ever allowed myself to believe before. This was first time I had actually seen so much blood in real life, except for when I nearly took my pinkie off in the school playground after falling on a piece of broken pop bottle when I was 10, but this was so much worse-seeing blood coming from this poor guy’s mouth and nose seemed like a bad scene from Scarface…and a voice inside of my head screamed at me to leave, to go back home, to leave this place…. because I was certainly out of my element. But like I always did in those days, I pretended not to hear.
Within a few days of the bloody brawl, we moved to a somewhat safer place in the same city, near an elementary school. It was a duplex down a narrow little road with only two other houses nearby, so it seemed as safe as it could be, considering the area. It was cozy place-with a small backyard, and it was even $5/ month cheaper than the former brothel dump, so life finally seemed good…peaceful, even. My only to-do every day was to do whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t have a job, because by that point in our relationship, my friend and I had settled into some weird Anaïs Nin/ Henry Miller scenario: She supported my passion for writing by working at a pizza joint and I would keep our home tidy and write, write, write all day and all night…When I wasn’t exploring my surroundings, that is.
Its strange and somewhat difficult- bringing up my past sometimes, but this 25 songs idea is a bit like therapy for me, and that means weeding through my life as a whole, (which has been a pretty varied life if I do say so myself), so the experiences, places and even people who have contributed to who I am need to resurface in these posts.
I was not only living with my friend at the time, but also with a new boyfriend-actually a guy that I had met soon after moving into the brothel dump. He didn’t have a home when we met, so he moved in. It was a unique situation, but it happened, and perhaps luckily, since he had far more street smarts than I had, having lived on the street (often literally) since he was 14. In retrospect, I can see how his harsh warnings, though they really angered me off at the time, have actually saved me in a few instances.
One of those warnings was about not answering the door when I was alone. That warning seemed ridiculous so I ignored it, answering the door to two men who claimed to be looking for my boyfriend and then began pushing their way into the door insisting they should ‘keep me company while I was home alone’. Luckily, my duplex-neighbor talked the two drunken jerks away from my door, but the experience left me feeling weak because I hadn’t been able push them out of the door, and handle the situation on my own. I spent the next few hours crying on the floor, clenching a steak knife-just in case they came back. Later that night, I received an “I told you so” lecture, which infuriated me and I promised myself I would be tougher next time…if there had to be a next time. I would keep the guard I was slowly developing up from now on.
I’ve always liked to explore and I’ve usually always preferred doing it on my own. Within a month after the drunken neighbors incident, after one of my explorations of the new neighborhood, I was nearly home when a van screeched to a halt and before I could react, one of the men had climbed from the van and shoved me against the wall of a metal shed. Apparently he had mistaken me for a girl that had screwed him over somehow. The other man realized that his friend had made a mistake and within seconds, it was all over-they climbed back into the van, without saying anything to me and drove away. I dusted my clothes off a bit, straightened my skirt and continued my walk home. I remember thinking that more than anything, I felt insulted that someone could mistake me for the cheap girl that lived in the area. Now I realized that I was pissed about so much more; this incident was another dent in my idea of invincibility and strength. I had just had the air knocked out of me and my arm twisted behind my back by some asshole…and I hadn’t even seen it coming…I had let my new-found necessary guard down. Definitive proof that I was certainly worlds away from the crumbling farm in the middle of nowhere I had grown up on.
A few days later, while trying to remember to keep my guard up, since I was beginning to believe that there were predators stalking supposed prey like me everywhere, I made quite a discovery. Standing on an overpass above rail-road tracks, I spotted a tiny wrought-iron fence, with vine-covered stairs that seem to lead straight into a tangle of trees. But standing at the fence, I could see that at the bottom of the stairs was some kind of shaded park-or what used to be a park, because by this point there seemed to be only a few rusting swings and a broken slide, hidden from the rest of the world by a canopy of trees and vines, placed oddly by a broken fence leading to the rail-road tracks that ran under the overpass. It looked dark and gloomy, with the trees blocking the sun-even in the middle of that summer day. From what I could see from above, the place seemed other-worldly, abandoned…totally forgotten. Which is why I loved it from the moment I discovered it. I definitely have always had a weakness for abandoned, forgotten things.
I began to take the first step down into this incredible discovery, when something, maybe a hint of my slowly developing early-adult common sense, stopped me…I so wanted to make my way down there-to not only try out the swings, (I’ve always had a hard time resisting swings), but also because there was a tiny small metal bench, which would of course be the perfect place for my writing. But still, something held me back, so instead, I walked home to tell my two room-mates about “my new favorite place in the whooooole world”.
By this point, I was exploring the city nearly every night, but not always alone. The three of us would sometimes go to a park near the expressway in the middle of the night to play on the swings before making our way down empty streets to one of the all-night diners or White Castle, where usually the only thing we could afford was an order of fries or a milkshake to share. But I carried my notebook with me everywhere, so watching the other all-nighters and lost souls was fascinating to me…countless characters in countless stories, just waiting to be written. I’m still an all-nighter, (and perhaps a bit of a lost soul too), so I still often have the urge to walk up the street to Waffle House at 3 or 4 in the morning to study people. On the first night of my discovery, instead of telling them about the place I had just found, I decided to take them there, eagerly leading them up the street.
Once we got to the top of the stairs my friend seemed pretty excited, but there was a terrible expression on my boyfriend’s face, which was not only disappointing but also infuriating, since he had already developed a way of shooting most of my ideas down. His expression made me wish I hadn’t included him at all, and would have instead ventured down in the park alone or with my Miss Nin.
Within a few seconds, he began to preach at us about how the place looked like a really ‘bad’ place. How it was probably a hangout for junkies & dealers, for hustlers & their tricks. He also warned of homeless people sleeping near the tracks and told me to not even think about going down the steps because I might never come back up’. Warnings that sounded a bit like ‘Don’t push the red button’, or ‘Don’t open that beautiful box’ to me. Sure, the place looked foreboding…that was part of the appeal! I suspected he was once again trying to be the heroic clever man, attempting to prevent the early demise of two naive young girls. I called BS on his TV crime show scenario warnings and within two nights, I had made plans with Miss Nin to sneak out at dawn and visit the park for ourselves, where we would watch the sun rise over Cincinnati, which was directly across the river.
In the very early morning light, we scampered along quietly, feeling like two little kids, giggling at our clever escape from Mr Over-Dramatic. We made our way to the fence and without allowing myself to be stopped by one of my irritating inner voices, I began leading the way down the steps.
The place was just as brilliant as I had imagined it would be! The morning light was a pale blue upon the swings and the thick canopy of trees made us feel like we were in our own little hidden place in the middle of the chaotic city around us. We sat on the cold, metal bench and watched the sun come up, though not much light actually reached the park through the trees. I couldn’t wait to bring my notebook here, where I would most definitely create unbelievable prose that would have surely made my mentor, Henry Miller proud (and perhaps even a little jealous) of such astounding genius!
Our excursion to watch the sun rise in our hidden place became an almost nightly event. After my friend came home from work around 2 A.M. , we would talk for a bit over macaroni & cheese that we shared straight from a pan, (since we really didn’t have plates or bowls) or sometimes we would splurge on an order of fries at one of our favorite all-night diners and then when the sky began to pale, we would walk down the stairs into what I now referred to as The Sanctuary.
On the fourth visit to The Sanctuary, I began to walk around the park, and stepping over the 40 oz beer bottles and empty fast food and potato chip bags, I walked nearer to the dark spot beneath the overpass that I had been standing on when I had discovered the place. I had been drawn to this dark underpass since the first visit, and I desperately wanted to step inside. The opening was seemed more like a tunnel, with only the faintest hint of light from the other end of the overpass peaking through the otherwise complete darkness. I began to walk closer to the opening when I heard my friend say my name like a warning for me to stop. I had heard that kind of ‘name-warning’ a million times before, when people were trying to stop me from whatever I was getting ready to do, so I paid no attention and continued creeping closer to the darkness.
When I reached the opening and took my first step in, I heard something large shift within, which made me turn and immediately yell GO! to my friend. We clambered up the stairs, rushing toward home. I was certain that I just nearly been attacked…attacked by a hideous, vile, hungry creature: like a river rat, or maybe even something worse…a hungry, rabid dog.
Obviously, naiveté was one of my closest companions in those days, because a few night later, after not returning to the park since hearing the strange noise, I had a huge fight with Mr Know-It-All, and stormed out of the house. But instead of walking to the pizza joint to wait for my friend the way I usually did after fights like that one, I went straight to the black fence and with my anger making me feel quite fearless, I walked down the stairs, hopped on a rusty swing, and began swinging furiously as I thought of a million cruel things to say to him when I returned home.
The swing made an almost painfully squeaking sound that was loud enough to even drown out the noise from the cars passing overhead, but I didn’t care in the least bit. I continued to swing furiously, mumbling my rotten thoughts aloud when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It seemed like spark of light from the darkness beneath the overpass. I slowed the swing and continued watching, and within an instant, there was another spark of light and then another which seemed much closer to the opening, and a single thought stormed from the pit of my stomach up into my skull: Neither River rats nor rabid dogs slowly creep toward angry girls swinging madly on rusty swings, and they certainly can’t create sparks of light.
Before the swing had completely stopped, I was on my feet and stepping sideways toward the stairs, never taking my eyes off of the dark opening. But not only my curiosity, but also the anger of feeling afraid of something prevailed and instead of continuing to the steps, I took a step toward the underpass. I could hear the sound of a slow-moving train coming toward me and could see a growing hint of light from the other side, shining into the darkness and exposing what seemed like three very tall shadows, standing so close together that they seemed to be connected at the shoulders. Like one large shadow with three heads…And in the oncoming light behind them, I could see that it/they were walking toward me, in a very slow, perfectly synchronized movement.
I turned and ran up the stairs, certain that my feet would get tangled in the vines or I would be pulled back down into the park and somehow devoured (Horror-movie style), but obviously, neither of those things happened. Once I was across the street, I stopped. I wanted so badly to go back-to walk to the top of the stairs. But I didn’t have a clue what I would have, or could have done then. I wanted to know what I had just seen, to understand why they had been walking so close together, so slowly and in perfect unison, but my infantile common sense prevented me from doing that.
For the next 3 months, I would walk past the gate and onto the overpass, stopping to look over into the park…waiting for some kind of sound, some sign of life, but I never heard anything. Once, I tossed an empty Pepsi can over the rail, hoping to stir something, but still…nothing. I was enraged that something or someone had stolen my hiding place from me….. Enraged that I felt so much fear…and enraged that I knew there were things that were much tougher than me.
Regretfully, I later told Mr Street Smarts what had happened and tried to describe the three shadows and the scary way they shuffled toward me in some kind of singular movement. Something he dismissed as being the spark of a cigarette lighter from a few drunks getting ready to pounce on a “stupid pretty girl that was asking for trouble”. Like so many times before, I clenched my fists, wanting more than anything to pummel that smug sneer from his face, but instead I turned and walked out of the room. “You’re lucky you weren’t raped, you know. Or even worse”, he yelled behind me, as I stomped up the stairs to my bedroom to sulk at my own stupidity for sharing the story with him and to again, try figuring out what I had seen.
Upon hearing this song a year later, so many of the lyrics resonated with me, my hidden park, and whatever it was that had been there. i know that my story is definitely not what Gary Numan was talking about, but the line “Oh look, there’s a rape machine, I’d go outside if it’d look the other way, you wouldn’t believe the things they do” has entered my mind so many times throughout my life…every time my inner voice tells me that there are things I shouldn’t do, places I shouldn’t go, and knowing that there are dangers that can prevent me from doing anything still drives me as crazy as being kept from my park did then.
That period in my life was when I realized not only how sudden, unexpected dangers could sneak up on you, but also how easily pain & harm could be inflicted on me… or anyone.
And unfortunately, I learned that I must remember as a woman, even a 5’9 tough-as-nails woman, to keep my guard up, because there are things far more rotten than smart-assed boyfriends… like those things that hide in the dark, watching and shuffling toward you…..just waiting for the moment that your guard comes down.
Love! Love! Love!
P.S. Thanks for reading my crazy-long post 🙂
Down In The Park
Down in the park where the machmen meet
The machines are playing ‘Kill by numbers’
Down in the park with a friend called ‘Five’
I was in a car crash r was it the war?
But I’ve never been quite the same
Little white lies like ‘I was there’
Come to ‘Zom Zoms’- a place to eat like it was built in one day
You can watch the humans trying to run
Oh look, there’s a rape machine
I’d go outside if it’d look the other way
You wouldn’t believe the things they do
Down in the park where the chant is
‘Death, Death, Death’
Until the sun cries morning
Down in the park with friends of mine
We are not lovers,
We are not romantics,
‘We are here to serve you’
A different face, but the words never change.