BAD DAYS COME IN DOZENS
by Gabriel Sage
I’ve always gotten lost or mistaken directions. It’s been happening as long as I can remember. My internal compass completely broken – a sundial at night. I was once traveling in Spain and found myself terribly adrift in the thick slices of the night, tragically lost somewhere between getting out of a cab, and getting into my little hostel room with the bunk beds, lime green walls and broken ceiling fans. Disoriented under the deep velvet sky, pushing through the dark air and red wine, I wandered into the only establishment that seemed open, and squeezed into the stool of another bar instead of cramming dormitory style into my room. Inevitably, I would have to ask for embarrassingly simple directions, but I would start with another glass of crimson red Spanish wine.
It arrived and without looking up, I swirled the sanguineous liquid in the glass, it spun like water in a drain and I thought of the communal shower in what would be, at this hour, an empty bathroom. I didn’t have to check what time it was; it was too late to still be out with an early train to catch in the morning. I glanced around the bar to find that it was just that – a threadbare and simple room with a low, rectangular bar top obtruding up from the floor. The dimly lit interior matched that of the twilight just outside the door, and I was still caught in the curtain folds of misdirection.
Upside-down glasses lined small wooden shelves that were crudely secured to the walls, alongside a large dirty mirror framed in a once extravagant but now dilapidated silver frame. Besides the bar there were a few vacant tables pushed up against the far wall, a chalkboard with an illegibly hand written menu, and a girl washing dishes with her hair in an effortless top knot and her aproned back towards me. When the dished had been cleaned, and eye contact received, my drunken attempt at getting directions garnered me an invitation to her flat just upstairs, very easy to find, with private bath and much better company.
I couldn’t have realized it at the time, but while my misadventures in the wanderings of a directionless fool got me nowhere geographically, they seemed to take me everywhere in life. After all, was is being lost if not the precursor to being found? Plus, it was finding myself more misplaced in San Francisco than I should have been for a Bay Area native, that I met Samantha, and ultimately moved to Los Angeles where my destiny would outlast my doom.
While most of the kids in my high school spent their weekends driving up the coast to SF from Santa Cruz – hoping to get away with using fake ID’s, smoke cigarettes far enough away for the smell to dissipate before returning home, or find any general and questionable things to do – I was in a pool, swimming head first into the cerulean chlorine water, competing in swim meets. I suppose that’s what made SFU appealing to begin with. While my graduating class set off to see new cities, for me, San Francisco still felt big and bright, teeming with possibility.
So when I eventually moved there and started school, my inherent lack of direction, coupled with my deprivation of even the slightest familiarity in my surroundings, left me more turned around than usual.
The day I met Sam I became her boyfriend within a matter of seconds, and it had nothing to do with love at first sight.
It was my second week in school and I was attempting to make my way back to campus when I turned a corner I thought would lead to me to the Muni train station, but instead just opened up to another narrow street lined with jewelry stores. I walked in the unfamiliar landscape until I looked up at a brick building covered in chipped black paint interrupted by a large glass window tenuously holding on to old rotted wooden molding with weathered red paint. The exposed interior revealed a jewelry store gleaming with silver. Above the door, in brick letters, a sign read, The Rock N Roll Circus. Inexplicably intrigued I decided to enter, and at the very least ask for directions.
The inside was much larger than I had anticipated from the small storefront, and glass display cases lined the walls and divided the floor space so as the sun hit the front window, light streamed in and reflected every surface. Bright white and amber splashes gleamed from ceiling to floor in between the occasional rainbow refracting on the wall. The surreal shimmer flickered through the store’s interior, and just as my eyes began adjusting to the dancing light, I made out the sound of angry voices bursting from what seemed like a back office. I took a step closer but walked directly into the sharp edge of blinding sun, unable to make out the source of the voices. In a flash of light, the door flew open, cracking violently against the wall, and a girl about my age stormed out, as pretty as she was angry, followed by a terribly gross middle aged guy dressed in nineties rock attire with aggressively thinning and unfortunately long hair.
“It is true and you’re mad and that’s why you’re acting like a kid!” She was loud for such a small and cute girl, and with her hands in fists raised above her head she brought them down by her sides and leaned into it, using the momentum to launch her words at the creep. “You know what? I’m honestly done. I don’t need this!”
He immediately fired back, “Are you kidding me Sam? Who even cares? You wanted it the whole time.” He reached down and grabbed at his package through uncomfortably tight leather pants. “Please, do me the favor and leave.” He used his free hand to point at the door and it was there, in the middle of the shop and at the end of his heavily jeweled finger that they found me. The moment lingered, caught between the rays of light, then dissipated into a sticky awkwardness before quickly turning tense.
“Is this fucking him?” the creep asked, still holding his package, biting through the silence. She had been staring straight through me for the entire duress of this uncomfortable ménage. Her eyes played hopscotch from me to him, and then back again before she said, “Yep. Here he is.”
“What?” and a blank stare is all I managed before she crossed the room, took my hand in hers and kissed me on the cheek.
“Meet my boyfriend. Here to pick me up from this shit hole,” she said, already pulling me towards the door.
“Wait, I- what?” again I tried but failed, rendered speechless from confusion.
We were practically out the door when she abruptly stopped, flipped up the bird, fired off one more round of insults directed the old man’s libido, and said good-bye to The Rock N Roll Circus; we were on the street before he had a chance to reply.
We walked almost a half a block in silence still holding hands, both seemingly stunned when I finally stopped us, “So, uh, what the hell just happened?”
“Oh my god, I am so sorry, but thank you for saving me, you’re kind of my hero now. That asshole thinks he can do whatever he wants but fuck him!” she stood on her toes and yelled the last part back down the block with a strange contorted grin. “It’s just I’ve been working there almost two years and he- so many times I wanted- ugh, it’s a really long story.”
“No offense,” I offered, “but it seems like the story of some strange sexual scandal with that old guy back there.”
I probably shouldn’t have been so bold judging by her reaction. She made a face that I at the time read, you think I would hook up with a creep like that, but years later I would learn really meant, I may have given him a few blow jobs but I’m definitely not telling you about it. I tried to backpedal, “Look sorry, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Just trying to lighten up… whatever that just was. I’ll tell you what; we can go back there in the middle of the night and rob that place blind. I’ve always wanted to be in a jewelry heist. You’ll drive the van.”
Her smile returned and she laughed. “It would be easy. I know the alarm codes.”
“There we go. Look at that. I’ve become your boyfriend and partner in crime and I’m not sure I even know your name. I’m Elliott by the way.” I reached my hand out to exaggerate the ignored formalities.
“Nice to meet you, Elliott. I’m Samantha.” She took my hand and gave it one large cartoonish shake. It jingled and I noticed her fingers and wrist covered in silver jewelry.
“So, since we’ve become so close already maybe you can do me a favor? I’m trying to get to back to campus and I’m not sure where the train is. You want to point me in the right direction?”
She looked me over and giggled, “College boy, huh? I’ll tell you what; I’m parked just up the street and heading to my girlfriend’s house for a party in Park Merced. Why don’t you come with? I definitely owe you a drink, and after I’ll give you a ride back to campus?”
“Definitely,” I replied probably too quickly and eager. I took a half step and offered her my elbow.
I didn’t make it back to campus for two days. I had boarded the Samantha City party-train; a one way trip to the world of nightlife, narcotics, and name brand fashion with a quick stop for sex in semi-public places.
After I finished my first year I moved off campus and into Sam’s apartment. It wasn’t until a year after that when she moved to New York for modeling or molly-ing or whatever that I finally got off that party train. It was a wild ride and a crash-course on living you can’t enroll in. I went to just enough actual class to keep my grades from showing how much class I wasn’t actually going to. The rest of the time we tore down the city. Sam took me to the front of all the lines at clubs in downtown and showed me the liquor store behind the gas station where an employee discreetly distributed party favors and contraband. From there I was lost only in her, never without direction again because we were together, and I had nowhere else I wanted to be, plus, she knew every corner of SF. We pushed her white VW Passat up and down every hill that twisted landscape of a city could throw at us. I usually drove while Sam rode shotgun acting as the joint rolling copilot. The last time I was in that car we were of course fighting, something had become an increasing relationship ritual.
“There’s another place my friend’s promoting at we should go to,” she told me one night as we were supposed to be leaving a party heading home so I could get some sleep for a midterm in the morning. She didn’t look up from her phone, a sign I knew all too well to mean she was ready to be met with intransigency.
So I gave it to her, “Aw come on. I got that test tomorrow. I need to go back and crash.”
“I knew you would say that. You never want to do anything fun,” she had turned in her seat completely to face me, “Why do you even care about one test? You are always talking about how you don’t even know what to do for a major next year, so it’s not like it matters anyway. Especially when I take us to LA!”
She wasn’t necessarily wrong about any of it. I was very much going through the motions of school at that point and fantasizing about moving down to Los Angeles with her was one of my frequent favorites. We spent many drug induced sleepless nights floating our own version of the modern American Dream back and forth across our pillows. Her with her modeling or blogging career that could finally flourish, and I – with my newly earned degree – indulging whatever entrepreneurial endeavor I was currently captivated with; our own sort of debaucherous F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald love affair.
We would pack up the car, just like in a song, and peel down the California Highway. Taking the scenic 1 and planning only on stopping to adopt a puppy en route until we were too stoned to drive and would end up pulling over to get ice cream and take the dog for its first walk. Eventually we would get to Hollywood or maybe Venice Beach and unpack our bags and then our lives into a small studio. We played each other countless reels of fantastic home videos projected from our imaginations with every alternate beginning and ending we could think of. There was an unadulterated freedom and optimistic excitement in the wide-open possibility. We found a liberty in the uncertainty that in our youthful exuberance we turned into dreams but would eventually fade into distant memories in old minds incarcerated by pragmatism.
Driving with Sam glaring at me felt like I was being blinded by the high beams from an oncoming semi-truck. So I spoke without turning my head, “Are you kidding me? What does that even mean, take us to LA? You’re going to take us to LA? This isn’t about us. You want to go and you expect me to follow you! It’s all about you- it’s always all about you.”
“Noo,” she said drawing out the word with just enough inflection to peel the skin from my bones, “I fucking love you, and that’s why I’m going to take care of us and I just want you to have some fun and not worry so much.”
“You’re going to take care of us how? Just because you did a bunch blow in the bathroom back there does not make you the celebrity you think you are Samantha.” She paused briefly so I darted my eyes from the road to meet her halogen stare, which had now been replaced with the wattage of something more like stadium floodlights.
“Well I’m more of a celebrity than you’ll ever be,” and with that she reached across the car and jerked up on the emergency brake quickly sending the Passat lurching and swerving. We violently passed from of our lane before fishtailing into a street lamp and crashing to a complete stop.
I’ve been in a car accident before – I was driving with my sister back from a trip to visit her girlfriend in Seattle and we got rear ended pretty hard by an older woman, clearly lost in the open space, and truly, she had an accident. This could hardly fit into that same category. This was an all-out kamikaze collision, and I had certainly never been in one of those.
“Are you crazy?” I sat frozen with disbelief, “I can’t – I mean, who even does shit like this?”
I burst out of the car not bothering to close the door. And despite the dramatic and angry effect I was intending, I couldn’t help turning just enough to look back and check if she was all right. I saw her taking off her seatbelt and sliding into the driver’s seat as I moved on for what I told myself would be the last time, even if that meant becoming lost all over again, trying to walk from where ever we were, alone.
If our previous fights toyed with the fine line teetering between insanity and passion, we had finally broken the boundary. When I heard her start the car behind me I reinforced my decision to stay on foot, and keeping my head down, continued to walk. The car engine revved but I thought nothing of it. Hands pushed deep in my pockets against the October chill I waited for the car to speed past me, contemplating yelling something profane as it did – except that I would never get the chance. By the time I felt the vehicle encroaching and come up behind me, I was already being plowed over.
She drove straight into me- colliding with my left side and hurling me over the windshield and onto the crumbling pavement of the road. She hadn’t built up enough speed to inflict real damage but when I struck the ground the air absconded from my lungs and I struggled to catch my breath against the overwhelming sharpness in my chest.
I honestly wasn’t sure if she meant to hit me or if she just lost control in her anger; she was never phenomenal behind the wheel, but as I lay on the ground I hardly cared either way. The pavement was dense underneath me and I slid my vision from the dampening evening sky back to the road to see the car come abruptly to a halt fifteen feet from me and the reverse lights flicker. My initial thought was that she was coming back to finish me off, but as I sat up, the parking lights clicked on and the brake lights off and she stepped out of the car. I threw my hands in the air akimbo and shouted at both her and the night. She didn’t react in the slightest. Usually, she is snapping her fingers and shifting her hips in the opposite direction of her head as her Puerto Rican sass crosses with her New York attitude, but now she just stood still, staring at me the same way she had the first time I met her. And just like that, she scurried back into the car and drove off without a word. I lay back down and laughed into the darkness. “I’m calling a cab.”
Thirty-five minutes later, I was in the back of a yellow taxi and faced with the only question I truly couldn’t answer, “Where you heading, brother?”
I thought about going back to the apartment like I had originally wanted, Sam never came back on nights we fought anyway, but it didn’t feel right anymore. I should have gone home. I had a midterm in the morning. But ironically, I didn’t care about the test at all anymore, and even if I went home at this point, I would be showing up to class tired and moderately hung-over tomorrow – so why bother? I had unmade my bed and now I had nowhere to sleep. The city felt stale and I was too used to seeing things through the eyes of a girl. I had been broadsided in every sense and the façade of not caring was already beginning to crumble under the weight of my inauspicious thoughts. I could go to Park Merced, but prospecting for another party seemed like a halfhearted and threadbare mission at best. Plus, there was always the ostensible chance I would walk into a party Sam was already attending.
“Yo man, you okay? No offense but you kinda look like you just got hit by a semi.”
“You have no idea.”
“I hear that buddy. Bad days come in dozens. So where can I take you?”
I hadn’t been in this city two years but there was no place I could go that wouldn’t remind me of her. I thought about Santa Cruz and the ocean. I thought about swimming – the sound of the lapping water washing out my head and brain. I wished there was somewhere to swim. It didn’t matter though, tonight not even cold water would cool my boiling blood; I could probably jump in a pool and end up sitting in a hole full of steam.
“You know, just take me to the train,” I heard myself say, “I’ll figure it out from there.”
The cab was a Prius and we whirred away with the crunching gravel loud beneath the tires before the engine kicked on. As we pulled onto the road, out of the window I saw the small depression at the base of the streetlamp, indented from where the Passat had hit, leaving it slightly bent and casting a crooked glow on the scene.
That twisted light followed me all the way to the train station, into the nearby liquor store, and eventually back to the apartment where I stayed to brood. I made it to the test, but didn’t pass. A few days later I would return to the apartment to find the windows open and stark daylight plastering the walls of a bare room, everything miraculously empty of all Sam’s belongings. Clouds passed overhead and everything went dim.
In retrospect, it couldn’t have gone any other way. She had always been a bird in flight – exempt of the expectations that caged in everyone else. There was never going to be a long talk in a coffee shop, something about it’s not you it’s me and that I’m a great guy. She left my life in the same flash of blinding light that brought her into it, and even after the wind picked up and the sun came back through the window, I was still standing in a shadow.
About the Author:
When Gabriel was in his early and formative salad days, he was given a book of poetry on fire by his father. Nothing was the same for him. What sparked a voracious appetite for reading turned into an affinity for the written word, and Gabriel is now both a student of English Literature and a writer. One word at a time, he hopes to create a body of work that will influence the world in the same way that first book of poems did his.In an attempt to bridge the ever widening divide between the literature intellectual studying classical structure and verse with the raw artist who embodies modernity by painting free verse on the walls of the city, Gabriel Sage’s work attempts to speak to the array of readers that exist today. With a deep appreciation for the seminal writers that shaped the craft of English, Gabriel hopes to write with both tradition, and a unique view of the world that can only be achieved by a millennial living neck deep in today’s strange culture.