"Disease takes much more from people than their physical health."

stories

Janella Lacson

lacsonBorn in Torrance, California, on January 8, 1992, Janella Lacson spent most of her life growing up in Manila in the Philippines, where she attended a private, all-girls Catholic school for seven years. She moved back to Los Angeles when she was 13 and attended Rosary High School in Fullerton, California. Aiming to be a screenwriter and director, Janella already has several self-published novels, screenplays, and short films under her belt. Her films include“The First Date,” which was produced in March 2012, and has screened at Fusion Film Festival (Los Angeles), and is scheduled to screen at the largest LGBT-themed film festival in the nation, OutFest Film Festival (Los Angeles). Janella is currently developing two feature films with well-known LGBT activist and filmmaker, James Duke Mason. When Janella isn’t writing or directing, she is working as an associate producer at RealStreaMedia, a production company based in Glendale, California. In the fall of 2012, Janella will be one of 250 students attending the prestigious film and television undergraduate program at New York University.

Other Works:


Nostalgia

The one thing I remembered was her smell. If I didn’t know what perfume she wore, I would have compared it closely to a brand new leather jacket and a basket of freshly picked lilies. Just a whiff would send my heart racing into a teenage frenzy, and in high doses, would allow me to fantasize about our future together. Nothing about her was ordinary. Her name, her face, her smile, her words—I was always awed at what an amazing human being she was. You’d think that a pretty face resulted in an ugly attitude, but she proved the cynics wrong by merely existing. I always knew that she would be the one I could never forget—the one that I would forever love and grow old with. I had no doubt in my mind that she would be the one who stroked my hand once a mysterious disease found me. She would be the person I would pour my heart and soul into when times got tough, and the first one to remind me to smile. I’ve always known this—but things don’t always happen the way we hope.

Disease is such an unattractive word. Though the stigma tied to the word is what is the most unpleasant of all. I think of disease, and I think pain and suffering. Not once have I heard the word disease and was pleased with the words that followed. Many people in my life were taken away by the most ghastly of diseases: cancer. I’ve seen the once-inspiring face of my uncle quickly deteriorate into a face filled with hopelessness and fear. Disease takes much more from people other than their physical health.

Another unattractive word that I don’t care to mention is heartbreak. I’ve heard people say that it’s the worst pain in the world. Those people have obviously never gotten a spinal tap before, but that’s beside the point. I believe that as we grow up, we develop a certain immunity toward heartbreak. We learn from our adolescent mistakes when the captain of the football team has sex with your best friend on prom night. Then we learn more as we become “serial daters” in college, probably sleeping around every now and then, and realizing that there is more to college than parties, alcohol, and sex. But we may come across those few individuals who, with much difficulty, knock the wind out of your overly ambitious heart—those are the ones heartbreak is most susceptible to. With love being one of the most sought after human emotions, people will fight with all they’ve got to keep the fire ablaze. People understand that love doesn’t come freely knocking on your door whenever you’re lonely. I applaud those lucky few who have successfully found their other halves—it’s quite the daunting task. But to those who have been cheated on, lied to, and humiliated, I give you the title: heartbroken.

Heartbreak isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all the chocolate boxes, sappy romantic comedies, and gallons of vanilla ice cream, many will soon learn that heartbreak is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. You learn the highest quality lessons from heartbreak because no other emotion is as complex and as sought after as love.

Then, there is the most unattractive word of all: death. If I could, I’d barter with God to give me the most terrible of diseases and the most painful series of heartbreaks to bring her back home. She was only 35 years old when a drunk driver drove through the passenger side of my ratty old BMW. We were on our way to my 35th birthday party at my brother’s home in Santa Monica, and I insisted that we take Lincoln Boulevard instead of the 10 East. Three days later, I woke up in the intensive care unit at Cedars Sinai Hospital with the news that my companion of 10 years was dead.

“She died instantly,” my brother said to me slowly. He said it as if the word “instantly” made the pain a little easier to bear. I remember carefully counting the minutes since I last saw her face. The car hit us at 10:42 am, and after meticulously solving the equation in my head, it had been 4,703 minutes since I caught the last glimpse of her. Today, the amount is 5,260,268 minutes and counting.

I wake up every morning facing a cold, empty left bedside. The light from the sun makes me angry every time, so I manage to keep my apartment looking like certain parts of Alaska that never see the light of day. I am tired, depressed, and angry. Who wouldn’t be? An inebriated 18-year-old Catholic school girl’s irresponsible mistake resulted in the death of the most important person in my miserable life. How is it that a beautiful, intelligent, British artist loses her life while the immature, promiscuous captain of the cheerleading team gets an assembly dedicated to her for being lucky to be alive? I received nothing from her: no apology, no regret, not even a tear. Didn’t she ever think that the person she killed had someone out there who was going to notice that she was missing?

On a day-to-day basis, I rely on Percocet and Prozac to keep me from going off the deep end. I haven’t worked in months and I’ve been living off the money I’ve saved over the years, though there is not much left. I eat, I sleep, I read, I shit, and then I do it all again. Life is simpler my way, but it is much lonelier when all the distractions subside. I indulge in the occasional line of cocaine, maybe even two, but who’s counting anyway. My dealer, Dmitri, is a thick and scary-looking man. Therefore, his profession suits him. I quickly become one of his most loyal customers throughout the months.

Ding! My cellphone text tone is ear-piercing. My bedroom is pitch black and the light from the illuminated cellphone shines unwelcomingly in my direction.

“I have new stock. Something new. I give you samples, tell me what it’s like,” Dmitri texts.

“Sorry, not interested.” I press the send button and immediately return to my early morning thoughts. Who does he think I am to blindly try a new drug that was probably concocted in a crack house somewhere? No way. I may be sad and depressed, but that doesn’t make me stupid. Ding!

“It will bring you into your memories,” Dmitri replied. “You’ll thank me later. Will drop off in your mailbox in the morning.”

Well, if there’s one rule I should respect it’s this one: Don’t fuck with the drug dealer...ever. And what is he saying that it will bring me back to my memories? It sounds like something on the SyFy Channel, or maybe something they discovered in Middle Earth. As of this moment, I’m planning to flush those pills down the toilet once I pick them up from my mailbox. What a silly, silly man Dmitri is.

The next day, the clouds and rain overpowered the sun’s heat. It’s something that I really appreciated at the time because the heat made me sticky and irritable. That day was actually one of the few days I needed to drag my ass out of the house to get some groceries and do a little shopping for the house. Usually, I just ask my friend Sam to do that stuff for me, but as of lately, she’s been manipulating me into interacting with the real world. Unfortunately, her little scheme has been working. I can’t even stress the feeling of infinite hopelessness when you realize that you are out of toilet paper as you are bare-assed on the can. Not fun at all. But when I did go out, nothing about the world seemed to amaze me anymore, so in a way Sam’s manipulation failed to have an affect on me. She hoped that seeing the happiness and joy around me would encourage me to start acting “normal” again. Of course, in her opinion, normal was to be all smiles, happy, and just like everyone else. I’ve never been like everyone else. I didn’t care much for conformity.

My visit to Target and my friendly neighborhood Albertson’s was very brief. I was in and out in fewer than 10 minutes, grabbing the essentials as I walked quickly down each aisle. I didn’t care to look at or talk to anyone else really, despite the odd stares I received for wearing my Family Guy pajamas in public at around 3:00 pm. I raced home and made it around 3:50 pm. When I got to my front door, I found a sandwich bag in my mailbox with four round black pills. In the bag was a note saying: “You’ll thank me later.”

How confident Dmitri was. I inspected the pills carefully to see if there were any notable etchings, or maybe an identification number of sorts I could plug into Google. I was disappointed when I realized that the jet-black pill was still as mysterious to me as it was when Dmitri described it.

To this day, I will blame it on the quote, “curiosity killed the cat.” Because without any thought of possible consequence or danger, I took one of the mysterious pills and washed it down with water. What did I have to lose? Absolutely nothing.

I took my time putting my newly bought items away around the house: toilet paper stacked in the bathroom, boxes of macaroni and cheese in the cupboard, bottles of medication on my bedside table. It was only after I poured myself a bowl of cereal that I realized that there was someone else in the room with me. It felt like someone was breathing down my neck, but then it got even worse than that. A few moments later, I heard a voice call out my name. First, it sounded like a distant echo. Then it grew to resemble a voice I hadn’t heard in years. The very sound of it sent shivers down my spine as I grasped my spoon tighter. “Noelle, get your ass in here!” The voice’s abusive authority demanded. My eyes closed themselves shut and before I knew it, I was standing in front of the place I once called home.

It scared me to see that I was no longer standing in my disarrayed apartment, but in a disreputable neighborhood just outside the city of Los Angeles. I hadn’t thought about this place in years. A part of me was so terrified about what was happening, but then I began to recall Dmitri’s text: “It will bring you into your memories.” Could something like this actually exist? Apparently, the answer to my question was a small black pill that I had foolishly ingested.

The voice spoke again, although I could not quite understand what it was saying. I was too busy noticing the vivid detail my vague memories put together. The street signed labeled Gale Lane stood at the corner of the street, filled with several spray-painted symbols that I never really paid attention to. The front yards of most of the homes were mostly unattended to, and they consisted of dried grass, leaves, and pathetic excuses for gardening. Then I gazed upon one house in particular. It had only one storey, a chipped red-painted exterior, and worn-out pillars that made up the front porch. The windows were permanently stained with dirt, but covered up from the inside by dusty red bed covers that were converted into drapes. I stood across the street from the unmaintained home and realized that I was standing in the year 2001.

“Noelle!” The mysterious voice bellowed again. Then, as I numbly stood, a little girl ran across the street into the house before me. I squinted my eyes to get a good look at the small, miniature figure. She was about the age of nine, running across the street wearing black shorts and a filthy tank top. “I’m coming, Ma!” the little girl exclaimed. Just the sight of her tied my stomach into a large knot. Her hair was tied up in a messy ponytail, with strands covering her innocent face. I knew that once I saw her, I was looking at my nine-year-old self. The abused, neglected, yet extremely optimistic version of who I was.

Little Noelle ran up the stairs and into the house. “Ma, I’m hungry,” she said to her mother. I knew what was going to happen next. “Get in here and shut up,” her mother said to her in reply. Those words pierced through me like a red hot fire poker. Though, I would have much rather suffered through that pain than what I experienced in that home. I stood across the street watching my painful past unfold right in front of my eyes. I screamed, but could hear nothing. It was like I existed in this alternate universe where I could do nothing but watch. I tried to scream louder, but it scared me even more that I still didn’t have a voice at that place during that time.

Again, my eyes forced themselves shut, and before I could even realize what happened, I was standing in my apartment. It looked strangely different. The blinds were drawn up, letting the natural light from the sun illuminate the apartment. There were no pill bottles anywhere in sight. Everything seemed to be where it was it was supposed to be. This time, I was unsure when I was.

“Juliet.” I hear my own voice coming from behind me. I turn around and see myself, not much different than whom I am now, but much brighter, cleaner, and—well, happier. She was looking toward the front door, so I immediately changed my gaze to where she was looking. If anyone could see both the brighter version of myself and the real me at that moment, they would say that despite our differences, both of our faces significantly lit up as soon as Juliet walked through the door. My body remained frozen as I stared at the most beautiful woman in the world. The smell of fresh lilies surrounded me and tears started to flow down my cheeks. I felt my lips curve into what I once called a smile. It had been a year since I heard her voice, smelled her scent, and gazed upon her face. I realized that I was watching a memory that happened two years prior to her passing. A time when there was nothing but excitement and hope about what the both of us would build together, not knowing that it would soon shatter into a million pieces.

I watched my brighter version wrap her hands around Juliet as she did the same. It was the perfect picture in my mind. Although I did know it was me that was embracing her, I did not feel it the same.

“I missed you,” Juliet said in Noelle’s ear. They both smiled at each other.     

“You’re such a sap. It was only two days,” Noelle said playfully in reply.

“Stop making fun of me. You can’t just make fun of me and get away with it!”

“Is someone getting a little too sensitive?” Juliet’s face dropped with the comment, and Noelle quickly noticed. With that, Noelle brushed her fingers on Juliet’s delicate face.

“I’m not sensitive. I just don’t want you to make fun of me. What if I disappeared tomorrow?” Juliet said genuinely. “You’ll regret all the times you picked on me.”

I knew the dialogue all too well. I’ve seen this once before, probably more, considering the times I replayed it in my mind over and over again. The whole memory gave my heart many different emotions to consider, the greatest being awe. Juliet was standing right in front of me just like she once did before the tragic accident that took her away from the world. She was a living, breathing memory that I wanted more of.

“If anything, Juliet, the things I pick on you for are the reasons why I’m going to miss you even more.” The brighter version of myself ended. She was absolutely right. It was what I missed the most: the bickering, the fighting, the resolutions, and everything that made us a couple. I missed being able to come home to someone who loves every bit of you, the bad and the good. I missed being able to not worry about how I look in the morning, with my hair resembling an electrocution victim’s. I missed having a partner who was brave enough to try the latest raved restaurant on Yelp, and possibly having the stomach flu together after. I missed being able to pee with the door open while she watched New Girl from the bed and not caring. I missed the ridiculous things; the things I wasn’t able to do with anyone else. But then it was all gone, then back again in the form of a small black pill.

My eyes closed again, and before I knew it, I was back in the disarrayed apartment that I originally came from. My cheeks were wet from all the tears, but I quickly looked at the remainder of the pills on the counter.

One. Two. Three. I counted. Three. Three.


Editor: LinckeN@WLAC.edu | West Los Angeles College | 9000 Overland Ave, Culver City CA 90230 | www.wlac.edu
Production Mngr: Michelle Long-Coffee | Web Design: Clarissa Castellanos