|Sep 23, 2016|
On my first night in Los Angeles, I climb into the passenger seat with a joint pinched between forefinger and thumb. Drew is driving and Justin is in the back and we pitch forward into the night, which is cold enough that I’m glad I brought my bomber. The men are in hoodies, Carhartt jackets. The air is crisp and Californian and smells of sage and desert and I open the window and let the wind pass through my spread fingers as Drew takes the turns wide and easy and fast enough to make my heart beat faster, too.
It was Drew’s idea to go for a long night ride, and when he suggested it, I told them I’d never been on Mulholland Drive. We pass the joint back and forth until it’s a little curl of ash I pocket, that I’ll find smeared on my fingers when we get home, and I slip into that sweet, self-contained state that smoking an indica puts you in, leaning forward in my seat, my thighs buzzing. We’re listening to the new Frank Ocean and below us the valley is a spread of glittering lights, stretching farther than I ever thought possible. I don’t use the word endless often, but it feels that way. Up in the hills we can see a smudge of fog sitting like a brushstroke on another, distant ridge.
I’m so happy here, in a fierce, cinematic way. It seems to ripple out of my skin, threatening to undo me. Drew has turned up the music uncomfortably loud, and it throbs around us in the taut bubble of the car. At a lookout he pulls over, abrupt, and we get out and look at the view. Justin climbs up onto the seat and hangs out the moonroof; I take a picture of him.
That night, I’ll lie in bed reading Eileen, which isn’t a good novel to read in Los Angeles, and fall asleep before Justin. I’ll wake to him climbing into the lofted bed next to me, pulling the blankets all over to his side, and we won’t touch, and again, very quickly, I’ll fall asleep.
At a bar in Silver Lake, I tell Kirk I still have his copy of America. I can picture exactly where it is on my bookshelf back in Brooklyn, way on the left because B is for Baudrillard, with his scratchy, mundane annotations peppering the margins. It’s been three long years since we last saw each other and I start off by saying to him, Well, I’ve had a lot of haircuts, which is a terrible way of marking time. He rubs my head affectionately, the part in the back where it’s buzzed all the way down.
We fall over ourselves to catch each other up on the years that have passed, then move through that to sink into the deep, motionless pool of intimacy regained. We’re both formalists, which is why I like him. He’s prone to the same existential, intellectual headaches I find myself getting into—feeling oddly satisfied to be so overwhelmed, so taken by something as ethereal as an idea. I could talk to him forever. We order complicated cocktails and the ghost of our sex makes shapes in the air between us, and I trace them with my hands.
And I am grateful for this, for the ease of it, for the balm of time that burnishes everything and turns it golden. He was someone I saw for a while at the end of a summer that I was very lost and now three years later I put my small hand on his big knee and confess, You were kind to me, and I ran away.
I always wanted to be kind to you, he says, surprised.
I know, I tell him. I didn’t love myself enough to take it.
The next morning, sharing a cigarette and a cup of coffee outside, he tells me a friend of his is trying to set him up with a friend of hers. She needs someone who respects women like you do, he quotes, reading the text off his phone.
I say, To be fair, I stopped sleeping with you because you respected me too much.
I laugh, so he knows I’m joking, but I’m not really joking, and he knows that too.
Everyone keeps asking me why I’m in California. Because it’s not New York, I say. Because I wrote a book. Because I had a long hard summer and working in trauma takes a toll on you. Because it’s the place where I always come to when I want to fantasize.
That’s partly true, but it’s also that I want to try my hand at belonging to something else. I figure if I get far enough away from the city and far enough away from the only person I’ve wanted to belong to, if I go back to the place where the dream of me seems to be from—air salty and scented with dry grasses, with sage—maybe I’ll find something else to disappear into.
I take a deep breath at the edge of the diving board and let go.
On my last night in Los Angeles, I stay with Zach in Echo Park. We used to share studio space in undergrad, and he’s seen me in every mood that I’m capable of. I curl up in a ball on his futon and cover myself in blankets and we talk about the art we’re making and the art we’d like to make. I tell him about you, about the trap I find myself caught in, a trap of my own making, and he says, Larissa, don’t you see there’s a pattern? You're so good at seeing everything else; can't you see this?
And I think about all the times I’ve wanted to be with someone and I think about how I got to where I am now and I think about how long it’s been since I fully belonged to myself and I think about why I came here, the story that I came with and the story I wanted to bring back; the story I wanted to tell.
Up on the ridge, my first night in Los Angeles, I don’t try to take a picture of the lights, of the valley stretched below, lit up like a diorama, unreeling like a map of so many potential lives I could see in—I know it won’t preserve the moment the way I want it to. I know that few things will, that even writing about it won’t make it keep, but I know that for a moment I’ve come to something so close to the perfection of a feeling that it’ll hum inside me, long after we’ve descended the ridge and pulled into the driveway of the place we’re staying, with its shimmering blue pool and its view of the Hollywood sign, framed by desert pines.
I’m doing really well now, and it makes it hard to write.