Friday, May 21, 2021

The Wilderness Years - Lovesick

 There is nothing quite like the autumn sun in the Rust Belt, those last days before the endless drizzle and cold turns to snow and ice for a few months. As if the autumn rays weren't enough there was the warm glow of Veronica that was with me all the time. We had worked out a way to see each other regularly, planned nights as well as stolen moments that would spring up, a quick call to see if we could meet for a few minutes or half an hour or just to steal a kiss. There is an apex in most human relations and we rarely recognize it when we're there, looking down over the world that we feel we are on top of, pretending as if the world won't keep on turning and bring us back around. The King of North Oakland quite enjoyed this view. For most of the last five years i'd been working my way up towards the top and now that the business was there Veronica was the crown jewel of my little mini-empire that i lorded over in the East End. 

Veronica was back on her feet now, monetarily speaking, as she had gotten more shifts bartending at the strip club as well as other nights waiting tables. She was still on the lookout for other bartending gigs but three nights behind the bar and one or two shifts waiting were earning her enough cash to get by on. Of course it didn't hurt that i would take care of anything i could for her, not because she asked but because i wanted to. Maybe it was some sort of subconscious guilt on my part for the position i'd put her in. She was a fine and decent human being and i knew that she harbored some guilt as well for the situation we had created. She'd only ever seen the Waitress once, the pilled-up episode at the bar that she barely remembered, but knew that i didn't go home to an empty apartment and was the reason i could never stay over at her place, why we usually stayed in and why we had to play coy when we were down at the Little Corner Bar. Not to mention that her ex-hoodrat beau and his friends hung out there as well and there was more than passing curiosity as to the relationship between us.

Being a ranking hood meant that i wasn't all that worried about the hoodrat crew. They knew what i did and what i did came with a certain amount of respect. There was also an element of fear that i cultivated among the locals. They knew the bar protected me, they knew i had some friends who'd back me up, they saw high ranking gang members and drug kingpins buy me drinks at the bar. These kids may not have been all that book smart but they knew street cred and knew that some guys were not to be fucked with or fucked with at their peril. If i stole someone's girl there wasn't much they could do about it. Of course i didn't steal anyone's girl, in this case Veronica was single when this whole thing kicked off so there wasn't much any of them could say. 

It was a Thursday morning when i awoke to the message on my phone. I was getting ready for work and turned on my phone to check if there was any business already lining up for the day. There was one message, it was from Veronica, she wanted to know if i could stop by on my way to work. she needed to see me, it wasn't an emergency or anything and she said she understood if i couldn't but that she was up and if i could to call her and let her know. I kicked my ass into high gear so i could get out of the apartment sooner than usual and hopped into the Geo, cranking the engine and working the clutch, the little Geo was temperamental in damp weather and the cool fall air was playing games with her engine. I sat talking to the car and urging her on, telling her i needed her to turn over. On the bright side there is no way the neighbors would believe the guy in the second floor apartment was moving mad amounts of weed cuz if he was you'd think he could afford a decent car, right?

Lil Geo finally turned over and i made my way the few blocks to Veronica's place knowing i didn't have much time if i didn't want to be late for work. There it was again, work. What was i doing at this shit job i gave fuck all about? Why was i rushing to a job that before taxes would pay me $75 a day? It was non-sense. I made that much in fifteen minutes at the bar. Some days i made that every fifteen minutes at the bar for two hours straight, all while drinking and fucking about. Yet here i was somewhat worried about being on time. For a guy with a so-called shitty work ethic i sure made an effort to appear as if i cared about this gig. I was a walking conundrum. 

As i pulled up to her place she was sitting on the wooden swing that adorned the apartment's front porch. There were six units, all of which were dark, except for the upper left third floor apartment, hers, which i could hear the voices and music faintly drifting down from the cracked front window, cracked to relieve the heat of a third floor apartment as well as the cumulus clouds of cigarette smoke from a bunch of pilled up and drunk cool kids with nothing much to do. She was wearing a long, dark skirt and an oversized sweater. 

She smiled at me as i walked up the sidewalk and up the three steps but there was a melancholy tint to her dark eyes. She stood up and wrapped her arms tightly around me, we kissed for a minute, the whole time her holding on to me as if i might slip away. I just needed to see you, she said. Havin' a party, i joked. She didn't lift her head from my shoulder. No, just a few people came back after the after-hours, i'd wish they'd leave but i feel bad kicking them out. I stroked her head, want me to do it? Without raising her head she whispered, not if you can't stay, i don't want to be alone. There was a weight to her statement, she said she didn't want to be a problem but that she was in love with me and wished i could come upstairs and put her to bed but that she understood i couldn't, that i had to go to work. She apologized for being so emotional and i told her there was nothing to apologize for, there was a brief flicker of a giggle as she claimed it was probably just the pill wearing off. Are you sure you can't stay? she asked. I shook my head. I want to, i told her, but i'm already on thin ice at work with the trip and all, i'm out of days until January and not showing up and getting fired would have me answering questions at home. It wasn't intended but i could tell this last part stung. 

We stood on the porch in the cold and dark morning, bathed in bright yellow glow from the porch light. I was looking at her, i held her face in my hands and kissed her forehead, i could see the tears welling up. She may have been young and beautiful but there was a toughness about her. It stemmed from growing up relatively poor in a large family, she wasn't the type who was prone to crying and seeing her standing there that vulnerable while the laughs and voices of her friends drifted down from her place hurt. We were both lovesick. There was nothing easy about this mess that i had orchestrated. Walking towards my car i glanced back to see her watching me, eyes glistening with a look about her that buckled my knees. I wanted to call off, i wanted to kick out all the people in her apartment, carry her to her bed, slip in beside her and go back to sleep. What the fuck was i doing? Why didn't i tell her that i was just as deep into this as she was? As i put the car in gear i could see her watching me. She had sat back down on the swing and as i drove away i could see her gazing at nothing in particular, the cherry of a cigarette burning, a far away look in her shining eyes. 

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