"I longed, sometimes prayed, for something (anything!) to happen."

stories

Tahlia Jamison

Tahlia is an online student at West Los Angeles College. A model/dancer/actress, she loves combining working in fields she loves with getting a college education. In addition to enjoying all areas of the performing arts, Tahlia has fun spending time with her close-knit family, as well as reading, writing, going to the movies/theatre with friends, traveling, swimming, and playing with her dog.


Journey

Growing up in Hollywood may sound glamorous, but my first thirteen years here in tinsel-town were far from exciting. An outsider at Madison Junior High, I was scorned for getting straight A’s, wearing dorky clothes, and being a lousy athlete. Socially, I was a zero. I kept to myself, pretending to relish my solitude. The characters in books I read voraciously were my only friends.

Time crawled by; every clock seemed to tick at an agonizingly slow pace. I took to watching the second-hand on my Timex watch as it crawled from one minute to the next. “Sick habit!” I thought.

I got through my first two years at Madison feeling sluggish, restless, and lonely. I longed, sometimes prayed, for something (anything!) to happen. On the cusp of young womanhood, I yearned for camaraderie, but didn’t know how to reach for it.

During the first month of eighth grade, my days droned on, each a replica of the one before. Every morning at 6:00 a.m., I awoke to the high-pitched BEEEP of my cell phone’s alarm. Sleepily, I fished around for jeans and a t-shirt in my makeshift closet, a black-and-silver metal camp trunk. It sat, along with my red futon, behind a flimsy beige room divider. This corner of the living room was my “bedroom.” Privacy? None.

As I poked around, digging for something to wear, I thought of how, like me, the trunk had never traveled anywhere- not even to camp. Years ago, Dad had lugged it home from the Army surplus store on Vine Street. And there it still sat.

I headed to our restroom (dingy avocado green), rinsed out the ever-gritty tub, and took a quick bath. The lone towel was damp and white; it hung from a hook like a sodden ghost. I wondered which brother or parent had used it, not bothering to toss it into the hamper or replace it with a fresh one. Nothing was done in an orderly fashion in our condo-ever. I used the soggy towel and shivered. Tugging clothes onto my half-wet body, I listened intently for sounds of my family waking up. Relieved to hear nothing, I brushed my hair and pulled it into a ponytail; practical, like me. (Or like others thought me.)

Entering the kitchen, a screaming-bright yellow, I paused for a moment, reveling in the rare, delicious silence. Later, with five of us awake, crammed into a space meant for three, the decibel-level would be crazy-loud. Painful.

Despite the quiet that enveloped me like soothing wads of cotton, I began to rush, wolfing down a bowl of Fruit Loops (always Fruit Loops) and a glass of milk. Every morning, I aimed to escape before my big-mouth brothers left their shared bedroom or my hung-over parents stumbled out of theirs.

Once I’d gone, my brothers headed to the High School (perennially late) or ditched their classes. My parents dragged themselves to work in a coffee shop they hated. Many days, they called in sick. If one or both got fired, they moved (together) to another diner, another cafe. It’s odd to admit that my parents were slackers, but I’m a truth-teller. They were pitifully unmotivated.

After washing the breakfast dishes, I made lunch: sandwich, fruit, juice box. Always the same. Tossing food into brown bag, then bag into backpack, I opened the front door. Slipping out, I marched down the corridor, staring downward at its dated maroon paisley carpet. It reminded me of Grandma Rose who’d long admired it. Our condo had been her home, where we’d all lived with Grandma until she passed away. Mercifully, she willed it, all paid off, to Mom.

When the elevator arrived, I stepped inside the usually-empty car, careful to avoid its mirrored walls. Why stare at my own face, so blah and nondescript? At Lobby Level, I greeted our ancient doorman in Spanish. Pleased, he grinned; I liked his instant warmth. Calling “Adios, Miguel!” over my shoulder, I hit Hollywood Boulevard.

Taking a left in front of our circular driveway I headed to school on foot. Hollywood Boulevard, the block I walked east on, was often a bustling hive of people. At 6:45 a.m., though, the long stretch of concrete was near-empty. With summer over, no tourists lined up for star maps or tour tickets. Restaurants and shops were shuttered. I picked my way through fast-food wrappers, empty beer cans, and worse. The homeless snored in doorways, some of them in pairs. Hollywood sleeps late.

The lone pockets of humanity were domestic workers, all ladies, who clustered together on benches at bus stops. All were headed to Planet Westside, another world. There, they scrubbed already-spotless mansions and cared for other women’s children. I eavesdropped on their gossip (in Spanish) about snooty employers they served, and spoiled brats they were ordered to pamper. None knew that I’m half-Latina and understand the lingo, so they chattered freely. I liked listening in, unnoticed.

At Highland Avenue, I hung a right, crossed the wide intersection, and walked south. More people began to appear; no one glanced my way. I was the Invisible Girl, neither pretty nor plain enough to warrant attention.

Once the Junior High was in view, my heart thundered. The place held no joy for me. I clambered up the front steps, relieved to beat the crowd. Most of my classmates rode the bus or were dropped off by sober, peppy parents. Not me. A latchkey kid since kindergarten, I took care of myself.

I went to my locker, grabbed what I needed, and stashed the rest inside. After a pit stop in the girls’ restroom, I headed to my first class. One more dreary day as a nobody. Not a tough girl. Not a cheerleader. Not an athlete. Just me-Darlene- a mostly-ignored teen with limp hair and wire-rimmed glasses. I’d manage to get through the interminable school hours, then make my way back to the condo (alone). There, I’d knock off my homework, read, and deal with my family. (Same as always.)

On September 21st, the start of Week Three of eighth grade, everything changed. Journey Fallon strode into Mrs. Riggs’ English class, and my life, forever. I’d heard the “new girl” rumors. Days after her move west from South Brooklyn, Journey transferred to Madison. At first, she stood in the doorway, hall-pass in hand, sneering at us like we were zoo animals. I stared boldly back; our eyes locked.
Journey was exquisite; lush lips, flawless olive skin, huge amber eyes with fringy black lashes. Her features were sculpted, like those of a statue. Mrs. Riggs beckoned to the newcomer. Journey walked into the classroom, as if to her doom, purposely rolling her slim hips. She practically slapped Riggs’ hand with her hall-pass. The teacher croaked, "Your name?" in a tobacco-ravaged voice.
"Journey Fallon," she replied. Laughter erupted. None of them had met a girl named Journey; neither had I. Riggs pointed to a seat by me. Journey slunk down the aisle. Despite scorching heat, she wore black from head to toe. Mrs. Riggs rasped at me, "Share your book, Darlene".

Journey exuded toughness but didn't scare me; two hard-ass brothers and drunks for parents have made me fearless. Scooting over, I balanced a Lit text between Journey’s too-small desk and my own. Sniffing her bubble-gum, I smiled at Journey. She grinned back, looking like a kid for the first time. Popping the pink mound she offered into my mouth, I relished the blast of sweetness. We turned to page fifty, each holding half a book, hiding behind it to chew. Riggs droned on.

I slipped Journey my digits; she slid me hers on a gum wrapper. The class bitches watched, snickering. RIIIING! The bell clanged. Journey helped me moved my desk back in place. Arm in arm, we hit the hall, a cacophony of shouts, screeches, and whistles. Boys chanted, "Jour-nee! Jour-nee!". Girls hissed, "Darlene’s got a bestie!"

Journey and I zoned them out, talking effortlessly, like we’d known each other for years. Comparing schedules, we saw that we shared every class but the last of the day. “Meet at three.” Journey suggested. “Sure- in front”, I agreed. We walked to Math, taking seats side by side. During lunch, Journey joined me at the Misfit Table. I didn’t pull out a book to read, my usual routine. She spoke kindly to kids the popular crowd had ignored for years; I chimed in. Journey’s presence lent our motley crew an air of cool, of change.

Boys leered. One of them pretended to spill milk onto her lap. Girls gossiped, about Journey and me. She ignored them; I followed suit. We had History together, then parted. I missed Journey during my one last class, Biology.

When the last bell rang, I stopped at my locker, then rushed to meet Journey, my best friend of one day. I spotted her waiting on our school’s cement steps. Boys gawked; girls in clusters hissed as we passed. Yesterday, I’d been ignored--way easier than walking Journey’s gauntlet in the glaring sun. Tough-girl fascade in place, she steered me to a less-crowded corner.

“Address?” she asked. At my reply, Journey hooted, “We’re neighbors!”. I was thrilled, yet not surprised. Most of our schoolmates were sucked into yellow buses, but we walked north on Highland, arm in arm. Daylight illuminated Journey’s beauty: pillow lips, tawny skin, wary eyes. Grownups hurled catcalls and wolf whistles at her, not knowing, or caring, that she was a kid. Leered at by default, I felt queasy.

At Hollywood Boulevard, kaleidoscope of sound, bodies, and motion, we turned west. Ducking into a cheap deli, we greedily sucked in a whoosh of A/C-frosted air. Grabbing sodas from a moaning fridge, I paid for them and found us a table. Journey thanked me for the Coke. Slurping, we compared our lives. It didn’t surprise me that books were our shared passion.

My family history (parental drunks, delinquent brothers) seemed tame; Journey’s was brutal. She lived near me, but not in a condo high-rise. A foster kid just shipped from Brooklyn to L.A., she was on her sixth set of ‘parents’. Out of Journey's lovely face poured words that struck me like punches, “…stepfather, rape, jail, AIDS...” Her voice never wavered; she gave me the facts of her life as if reciting a laundry list. How, I wondered, could she sit there in one piece?

We left, heading west on the Boulevard. Limos cruised, homeless guys shuffled, vendors hawked, tourists gawked, dancers did head-spins on concrete. Even amidst that throng, Journey was ogled. Bathed in her reflected light, I wanted to duck. Even so, I was grateful for her company, glad to feel different on this too-familiar trip home. Stepping over dead and living movie stars’ names without a glance, Journey and I hit La Brea Avenue drenched in sweat. Agreeing to walk together the next day, we parted for different worlds, yards apart.

Once she left me on Hollywood, Journey doubled her pace. On the fly, she ducked her head, yanking her backpack around to cover her breasts. Like a turtle safe in its shell, my best friend scuttled away.
The camouflage worked. No catcalls or hisses soiled the air; no strange eyes stripped her naked. Anonymous at last, Journey disappeared into the boulevard’s pulsing, colorful throng.

Crushing loneliness struck me the moment she was out of sight. I gasped, my chest squeezing tight- then tighter- as if it was held in a vice. The shock of losing Journey, even overnight, made me shiver despite the heat. In one day, she’d become part of me. I stood (hollow, bereft}, glued to the pavement. People jostled me, swearing that I blocked their way. Just ahead, my white condo-fortress towered, dwarfing tiny St. Ann’s church next door.

Horns blared, babies yowled, dogs barked. Sounds seemed muffled, distant until a skateboarder’s “Hey, Idiot!” pierced through them all. Startled, I leapt onto St. Ann’s lawn. Worshippers jammed the church on Sundays, then fled for the rest of the week. In front, the homeless slept or squabbled; kids weaved around them chasing a Frisbee.

Plopping cross-legged onto prickly grass, I squinted up at my building. Our ninth-floor balcony was empty, the condo beyond it dark. Later, I’d see noisy brothers, booze-fueled parents: My Family. “Journey doesn’t have one.” I thought, wondering if she was safe; the urge to know overwhelmed me.

Scrambling to my feet, I dug into my jeans-pocket, prying out a memo-pad page: Journey’s address. Hopping from lawn to pavement, I hustled west, adrenaline pumping.

“I have to see her…have to…have to.” I said aloud. Then, I broke into a run.

I’d gone two short blocks when I matched the address in my hand to that of a motel converted into a low-lying, ramshackle apartment building, Board members of our condo association called the place, “an eyesore.” I didn’t agree; it just seemed lived-in.

I walked up to a black wrought-iron gate and pushed hard. It was unlocked; I stumbled into a courtyard filled with bedraggled plants, unkempt patios, and shouting kids playing tag. Sliding glass doors marked each residence.

Where was Journey?

Feigning cool, I strode around the courtyard peering into windows. Some had drapes drawn; most didn’t. The complex reminded me of a village, one where people knew each other’s names. Way in back, a unit with bright plastic toys and a broken tricycle in front stood out. Instinct told me that Journey was inside. Before I could knock, she burst outside. Hugging me, she said, “I missed you”. I murmured, “Me, too”.

A forty-ish, pretty Latina with a toothy smile came to the door. Journey called me her, “best friend at school”. My heart pounded. (acceptance). The lady said, “I’m Journey’s foster mom, Catalina.” and nodded for Journey to let me in. With relief, I saw that the two of them clicked.

I stepped through the red door. It was noisy and crowded inside, but a sharp pang hit me: Journey’s foster home was warmer than my family’s condo. Kids piled together watching cartoons on t.v. Chicken and rice simmered (delicious aroma). Saint’s images lined the walls. I’d wrongly expected squalor, neglect, even abuse.

Journey pulled me into a restroom with two potty chairs and innumerable bath toys. “Kinda nice here, huh?” she asked. I nodded; she looked happy. “Catalina was a foster kid.” Journey confided. “Half the kids are really hers, half are like me-but she treats us all the same.” Journey said. Hopeful pleasure crossed her face.

Journey showed me her bedroom as we talked. Half of one closet was Journey’s, the other half an absent roommates. It was neat, orderly. I thought of my “closet”, a camp trunk with rumpled clothes crammed into it helter-skelter. Journey slept on the top of a white bunk bed. Her juvenile-furniture mattress and quilt were comically small, but inviting. We climbed up to her space. Journey showed me her book-stash and a flashlight she used to read after lights-out. My best friend was fine; safe.

I hugged Journey goodbye. We agreed to meet in front of St. Ann’s the next morning. I scurried home in twilight, tears flooding my eyes. In my lobby, I murmured, “Hola,” to Jose, the night-shift doorman, and rode the elevator upstairs.

The paisley corridor carpet brought Grandma Rose to mind again. Smiling, I let myself into the condo. Bedlam greeted me as usual. Beer cans cluttered the coffee table in front of a sofa my dad was sprawled on. Mom popped out of the restroom and offered a vodka-scented hug. “Do your homework, doll.” she slurred, then sat with Dad.

On the balcony, my brothers hooted at each other; neither saw me arrive. I pecked Dad’s balding head quickly on my way to the kitchen. Grabbing a chicken pot pie from the freezer, I micro-waved it and disappeared.

Behind my room divider, I sank onto the futon. Dad yelled, “Losers!” at the ball players on our blaring t.v. Mom shushed him half-heartedly. I wished I was at Catalina’s, with her real and foster kids, including Journey. This, I knew, couldn’t be. I was already home. Placing the untouched pot pie on my trunk, I curled up in a ball and slept.


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