I have a thing for Christmas trees. When my mother and I lived in a crappy apartment on Westminster Avenue when I was twelve, we had a janky-ass fake Christmas tree. It was sad as shit. It was the saddest thing you ever saw. She put it together and placed it in front of the gold-veined mirror with small mirrored shelves we called the Bar. I do not know why we called it that. Maybe we assumed other people put alcohol on it. Normally my mom just put little Hallmark figurines, and those big cocktail mugs you get from Benihana, a geisha and a sumo wrestler.
There is a bus stop on the corner of Palms and Sepulveda right near our crappy apartment. It's a symbol of freedom — thrill and angst. I used to reach it through a hole in the fence outside. Across the street from the bus stop was a Grocery Warehouse. I'd hit up that bus stop when I was on the run from my complicated life with my mother. When I was on the run, my grandmother prayed for me. I can just imagine her kneeling before two porcelain busts, white long-haired people in robes, the man in blue she called O' Lord. "O' Lord, guide and protect Missy where she may be tonight." And maybe she would try to get things back to the way they once were. "Do you remember, O' Lord, when she would come stay with me in the summers? Do you remember the way she once cleaned her plate? She ate all the food. The meat I cooked. She slept beside me, her little chest rising and falling."
And maybe then she would begin haggling with O' Lord. She would give up chocolate. She would go to church twice on some days rather than merely once every day. She would give up pork.
After being on the run I wound up in Mainstream Home for Girls. Mainstream Home for Girls was next door to Palisades High School. Six girls — two to a room. And although the small house looked like a normal house, everyone knew it was a home for girls. Walking in and out of the front door was your scarlet letter. I ducked and sneaked from the back when no one was passing by. From my room in the basement, I could hear the bells at the end of each class. I could hear the football team practice. Running back and forth their stenchy, muscled bodies. One of the guys in front, he Used. Somehow, he was raised vegan in Topanga Canyon, and then there in the bathroom shooting dope, and then there on the big field, bent over in front with a tight ass, silly dark hairs above his lip. And me, I'd wave as I walked by, because he was one of the few who knew I'd been one of the Throwaways living in the home next door.
Another good thing about that intersection of Palms and Sepulveda is you could steal Christmas trees from the Grocery Warehouse parking lot. When I was finally living on my own at twenty, away from my mom and no longer in foster care, I hopped the fence and took a small one and threw it over the fence, and we stuffed it in the back of my roommate's brown Chevy Nova. She was a Hare Krishna and didn't give a shit about Christmas trees, she just liked the thrill of it all.
I stole throughout my youth. We stole premixed Club alcoholic beverages. Sex on the Beach, Long Island Iced Tea, all lined up in back in the corner store where my friend's mom sold tamales. Where we bought jabón for the dogs with fleas. We stole the Club drinks and then smoked pot. It was the two Cuban girls, the one black girl, and the Mexican girl, and the two white girls who were also sisters, and me, the blackapina. The white girls were Eastern European, or from somewhere that made them hairy, and they used Jolen to bleach their moustaches. We hung in the apartment where the Mexican girl lived with her father because he was never home. There was a graffiti artist there named Baba. Big and beautiful. He was like Maverick in Top Gun was to me when I was little. Something special. I drew pictures of Africa and drank the Club drink, and smoking pot made me feel like crying, and I thought about apartheid. The Cuban sisters always got in a fight. They'd fight about clothing, how the younger one messed up the older one's stuff. The younger one had acne and liked to get wasted and the older one always had her matte chili MAC lipstick on perfect.