Cast of characters: me, hair in pigtails, fresh from sleep, pink short-sleeved shirt, orange shorts and the all-important sports bra; the bespectacled man walking two Great Danes; the scruffy man coming out from a car smoking a cigarette, drinking coffee, walking a terrier; the man lying on blankets and has his camp around him in the park where camping is not permitted; Carlos, who recently began walking with a woman but who still smiles big when he sees me; the man who used to walk with a woman who once cried to me Beautiful!; John, who upon seeing anyone in his path, lifts his arm to high-five, which you must do more than once —John, who tells me nearly every time I see him in his heavily accented English, You so strong! and who recently touched my tattoo and asked Did it hurt?; all the careful ladies dressed in casual clothes, sunvisors and lipsticks; the woman wearing a metallic outfit pushing her young child in a stroller up the trail; the two men doing tai chi off-trail; the wandering woman who reads magazines as she walks with her two dogs, both of whom look like they have lived long, full lives; the bearded man walking two small black dogs that resemble bear cubs; the man who wears a baseball cap and carries hand weights, grunting at me his greeting; the men carrying walking sticks; the women younger than me, conversing up and down the route; the two men at the park’s mouth throw frisbees with the two most adorable Welsh Corgis ever, the dogs’ big smiles and little waddling legs that make me want to walk up and introduce myself; the woman dressed all in white who does sun salutations; me again, coming down the trail, half-jogging, half-running, endorphins releasing, uphill, downhill face beet-red, on my way home …
* * *
This last ten days, no—two weeks—has been full of misadventure, misfortune and woe; with occasional outbursts of song. I feel I have been made to learn things fast, faster than I’d ever want, and since life is as it is, I’ve been made to learn things I didn’t even set out to get an education in. Alright. Let me try and pass the test.
Two cats with opposite temperaments and minor melodies that have me puzzled, sleepless. A book I cannot seem to get back into but I try, I try. The nuances of living in a new apartment, a new neighborhood, and even worse parking than before. Sleeping in a new bed. Feeling closer to the helicopters. Hey, champurrado! being yelled twice a day in a deep and beautiful voice up and down my (new) street. Reminding my grandmother of who I am. Looking into the eyes of my mother and wanting to cry, looking away. A squat, two-foot Douglas fir ringed with lights and a mermaid under its branches, my first holiday tree in years. No elevators. Vomiting. Sobbing while driving. Trying to herd numerous juvenile offenders of different stripes into writing. A significant Sunday night. Sally Timms and her melody following me through the streets: I’m just a junkyard barge off the coast of New Jersey and I don’t know where I’m going to… Neko Case making me cry in the balcony of the El Rey. The pain that shoots from my heart through my left arm into my shoulder and around my back. The key not fitting in the door.
* * *
My palm lived through it all — my palm lives today, still, older, perhaps tighter and with more lines, lines from holding pencils taut in my left hand then graduating to pens, lines from grasping utensils and also scooping up rum-laden fruits from a bowl in the middle of South Dakota, lines that tell stories of fists clenched and pillows struck and glass, held then flung; my palm patiently waited for the grasp of the most compatible hand, while grabbing and letting go of the most physically attractive, the sexiest, the most dangerous of other palms; connected to my arm, my palm, composed of rough skin that is not as brown as the parts of my skin that see sunlight; my palm has worked at schools, retail stores, handed anti-perspirant to young women and pushed the shopping carts of old women; my palm, one of a twin, held the hands of all children not of me; lovers licked and kissed the tender underside of my hand; palm outstretched, it guided free things to my mouth, candy, drugs, food; my palm exists as one of my appendages, the one that experiences the heat, the roughness, the cool and the ice of the world; my palm, this one that grasps a pen at yet another bus stop…
* * *
I was Catalina, Oxford, Serrano. I was Western. I was a joint passed on 3rd. I was greetings shouted across the street. I was prepaid cellular. I was white shoe prints on wet asphalt. I was gutter runoff. I was sitting on the curb smoking a pipe. I was Espana I was discounted audio and I was hot sauna. I was Council Street. I was long lines at post office. I was green nylon pants. I was muddy paths. I was orange cones and clutched umbrella. I was dark clouds coming. I was plastic bottle being emptied of water. I was toothy grin in wrinkled face. I was locked library doors and I was mountains in the distance. I was a memory slipping away. I was hip hop from an upstairs window and I was stop sign and I was dirty dogs tied to the pole. I was gold dog and I was wet blue rug. I was El Sereno and I was home.
You were too.
Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of “Excavation: A Memoir” (Future Tense Books, 2014), “Hollywood Notebook” (Writ Large Press, 2015) and the forthcoming “Bruja” (CCM, 2016). Her work has been profiled or featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus and the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Spotlight blog. Her writing has appeared in such places as The New York Times, Hazlitt, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Nervous Breakdown, and a year-long series appeared at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.