I Long to Wander
In a reverse of ruins, the landscape here has transformed out of rewilding its growth and expansion unrecognizable. There was a time in my life where my friends and I were living in a town that left loosely behind the concept of cool and was iridescently beaming an unprofitable expansion of concrete. The San Jose I wandered was licked clean of booming industry and suspended idly in the shadow of San Francisco. It yielded places of urban discovery for the left behind or latch key youth to rummage through. My youth was like a conceptual spin art project or a ride on the Gravitron. When you are on that spinning ride at the carnival, it spins slowly at first, and you cry out in joy for it to go faster and faster. As it violently pulls you to the wall gluing you to the wall, the whooshing winds excite you, and as your vision blurs you smile so big, it hurts your dizzying head. When the ride stops your guts slowly slide down from your throat, the gate opens, and you step off giggling while your friend is puking over the railing. I guess it its a bit like that in the way that it moved so fast you can't remember what happened, but you know it was painful, scary and fun. Or whatever.
Varrrio Horshoe is a wing coming off Bird Ave. Split from downtown by freeway 280. It is an island of San Jose kept in that picturesque yellow tint that syndicated shows have when they are no longer fresh, but a nostalgia trap. I imagine pulling my shirt out of the back seat of my Ford Escort and changing on the lawn of Gabe's house on Minor Ave. His home was third in from the corner, sitting off axis in a sharp slant. If you bend your head right, you would see it even. Its foundations shook from years on bumpy ground and were never adequately tended to. You could roll a ball from the back kitchen out the front door without even a nudge. Jason wouldn't go in alone because doors would open and shut on their own, scared by all the soft sandy nudges from spirits sighing through the house. Dee, Gabe's mom, didn't help his fears settle because she knew, for a fact, there were ghosts in the house. She never slept in her own room because of this fact, in her room is where the spirits resided. I was never afraid of ghosts and am a natural skeptic on all things based in the imaginary, so I believed she said those things so she could give the room to her son and his houseless friends. She slept on the couch in the living room, her head plopped on the headrest and ankles tapping the opposing rest, laying next to the old computer and a massive big screen that took up as much room as the couch, stacked bootleg DVDs along the top. The grass out front was always golden and patchy. The lawn seemed to be in its Sahara stage, still thirsting for rain, but it rarely rains here. The backyard was vast and had 3 dead cars melting into the dry dirt.
4 sheds lined the fences stuffed to the doors with family junk and old DJ equipment from when Paul, Gabe’s brother, used to spin freestyle. In the furthest corner was the SADDEST weed plant standing defiantly. His dad rode up on a squeaky cruiser and planted it there one year, and I swear just straight up forgot about it. When People to People file sharing was at its peak, we would illegally download tons of music on Gabe's computer, and at one point Dee saw a news article about Lars Ulrich, Mettalicas drummer heading the persecution of all pimple faced downloaders. She came home and yelled at Gabe to delete all the music, or we would get arrested. As a way to trick the system, Gabe switched the first letter of the first name of every artist with the first letter of their last name so that we could scramble the feds. As a result, we were the only ones blasting Pean Saul and Jichael Mackson Cd-rs.
I met Gabe at a continuation school called CAPITOL HIGH. It was a forgotten back room at the rear end of a vocational/job training school. All students were required to take a job training class because let's be honest we were already fucked. This school was just for kids whose attention deficit was so bad they could barely look up from a table or kids who got caught up with gangs or just all around fucked up. I remember looking up from my desk one morning after a nap to see this girl Alicia who sat next to me who was 17 years old and dating a 28-year-old pour out one of those 125 two-tiered Crayola crayon boxes. She did this daily to all the boxes, she poured them out and meticulously organized them back again by color for hours then someone would usually walk by and knock them over fucking her up. Next, to her pouring these out I saw this white homeboy lining out coke on his desk looking up and motioning to a homegirl across the class if she wanted some when she said yea, he mimed a blowjob, and she rolled her eyes but didn't say no.
Meanwhile, one of Gabe and I's friend who sat in front of me recently shaved his head and was reading Resistance records magazines, which was a white power record label. We made fun of him so much because he hung out with us black and brown kids every day! I remember as all this was happening around me I looked up at Gabe sleeping in the corner and thought, this must be what drowning is like. Our friend Malik would show us clips of himself stealing a car on an episode of REALTV, and I think it was one of his proudest moments. He was a young recruit in Varrio Horseshoe, years later I heard he was locked up for attempted murder. Weird how I remember joking with him and shooting staples at each other in class like those moments were the last bits of normal childhood we would get. Gabe and I hated each other at first and were supposed to box, but we bonded over some scam at Taco Bell we pulled a few times to get free lunch.
My red escort, I never paid my insurance or registration or even got an oil change on that car I would keep it out front of Gabe’s place for a good while. I had a "provisional license" because I was so young. Once drove like 6 people in this 4 person hunk of junk, we got pulled over on highway 880 alongside the perc ponds. The cop counted all the things wrong with the car and situation, he pulled me out, searched me, and said: "there are so many things wrong I don't want to take the time to do the paperwork, get the fuck off the road" and let us dip out. It was just this dry cough of a car, beaten in the sun and filled with all the things I owned, which wadn't very much. When my mom kicked me out of the house, I was 15, I wasn't allowed to go back and grab my stuff. After about a month, she and her boyfriend sold off all my stuff worth any cash for drugs. I used to go back there and break in to take showers. The house was basically empty and sad. I would have to clutch my guts when I walked through because it hurt so bad to see my stuff gone and see snapshots of my mom's deterioration. There were always scattered pictures of porn hung up on walls of girls being penetrated, and my mom’s boyfriend turned their room into some fucking tweaker fuck mansion built of scrap wood, tile, and Christmas lights. It hurt to know what my little brother and sister had to live there and that I couldn't help. I was happy to hear years later when they were in Fresno that my mom went to jail, so they had to live with my grandma and grandpa. I felt that it was maybe what saved some of their sanity. My aunts called my brother, and so he and I went up to kick my mom’s husband out of the house. He cried to us, and I stared through him till he stopped and left. They lost that house anyway.
I lived in my grandma’s backyard after I got kicked out. I stayed inside of a room with my dad, which was small and hot and smelled like mold. We slept there till we needed to go. We had a duplex on 2nd street that was short-lived, maybe half a year before my dad had to leave, likely from not paying rent. My other grandma gave me her old ford escort which was already passed down through 3 or 4 people before it got to me. It smelled like her hair and fit me well enough. One night my dad’s most notoriously fucked up ex-girlfriends threatened to call the cops on him for selling because of an argument they had. He always had a problem with hitting women so I don't blame her, even though most days I wish this specific one would just die. He hid a gun and a few large zip loc bags of coke in my car and didn't tell me. He told me to stay away for a while. I was maybe 16, so I just roamed the streets with friends trying our hardest to never go to sleep. I think our record was 3 days. There is always this midway point between pure dark and dawn where you and your friends are the funniest and saddest, crouched in a parking garage at 4 am or behind a restaurant at 3 am 4 of you cuddled together in the cold with dumpstered bagels laughing at each other hoping never to go anywhere else. When I finally got back to the house after a few weeks, we had to leave that spot, but there was no room for me with him or at my grandma’s anymore. I packed what I could in the red Escort and parked it in front of Gabe’s slanted house, using it as my portable outdoor closet. My dad put all my big stuff in storage and then never paid the bill. It all got sold, and I lost everything again. At this point, it was my fault for even trusting anyone else with my well being, so I spun it as a way for me to really get free.
I didn't really care for much of anything, most days I walked the tracks wishing a train would come to take me out. I was 16 years old sitting on a rock in a shed in the Horseshoe watching my friend Justin smoke meth on at cot. I used to love watching the smoke come out, the littlest inhale produced this enormous cloud of thick smoke that smelled like sweet burning plastic. He lived around the corner from Gabe with his mom but spent a whole 6 months smoking speed in someone's shed a block from his house, watching Live Napalm Death videos and skating all day/night. At the re-done gardener community center, there is a mosaic of Justin skating with a mohawk. As I revisit this story in 2019, it has been a year since Justin's Suicide. There was more to him than this period, and that's an understatement.
Time would go on forever, or so it seemed. It was a blur of shows and all my friends wandering around all day and all night stealing clothes and selling them to eat and skating every parking lot in sight. I couldn't sleep because I had to wait for other people to want to sleep and then I could crash with them, but everyone was either sped out or just too hyper or unwilling to go home, fearful of what was waiting for them there. So we stayed out forever always. I learned to be awake a long time and the days turned to extended dream states. You can get a lot done with a delicate heart, more than you think. Love is the distance you are willing to go. Love is the return being inconsequential. My love for San Jose must have been true love because I let that place beat a bullet into my brain many times over, and still I sopped up my blood and tears like a biscuit cleaning a plate.
How do I compose my love about a place that knew me by all my names? Oh expanding city, trying to hide its emptiness, spilling your insides to the world. Don't change for me. I’ve loved you since the moment I caught tags with my cousin on the bus going to Eastridge Mall. I’ve loved you since the first time I laid in the Rose Garden. I’ve loved you since you gave me the first story to tell. I love you so much I need to leave you to remember why I loved you in the first place. It’s like that I assume. Everything becomes a statue representing the bridges you've built. It is a faucet running on and on. I’m a drudge to nostalgia, I’m always quilting this gown to drag. This love story which is multilayered and unending: as long as you continue to lift me up like you bring me down.