2 beds, 1 bath, a few walls and a roof with irreparable cracks. An acre where dreams turn to ash beneath weeds and dead grass, behind a dive bar and between the screams of broken glass. $1100/month. No questions asked.
Only kind of a shithole. All falling objects need a place to crash and two school dropouts are no exception. When your best friend falls with you, you never look down.
We were 20. Barely made enough money for rent, food and bourbon. Bad credit and no rental history led us to the Four Corners. Monument and Oak Grove. El barrio, where the street sleeps cold. Where the East Bay’s crack is manufactured in loads. Where the souls that aren’t desperate have already been sold. Where working class hands grind themselves to the bone until their children are old enough to leave or do the same.
Going barefoot anywhere was suicide. Our parking lot looked like a cinder block had murdered a mirror, near a corner where a glass half empty died on the sidewalk. The 7-11 nearby was bordered on either side by rival gangs. Their bullets, always looking for a new place to sleep. Going there was a lot like going barefoot.
One morning, it was there. A hole torn in our fence. Three boards broken with no explanation. Their murderer is never found. The cops never came unless they were chasing a suspect through our backyard, racing through a hole we’d grown used to. When you get used to holes, you stop trying to fill them.
You stop wondering why they’re there.
Our alarm clock was the sound of death. Feral cats scratched 5 a.m. into the darkest part of the sunrise. Some nightmares never go back to sleep.
Our friend woke up on his floor, tied up in duct tape. His face – swollen. His stuff – stolen. His mistake – opening his front door. He said there were three of them. Shouted for an hour before anyone found him.
We found someone else’s syringes in the backyard: laughing, blowing bubbles through blood. Used oven mitts to get rid of them, then buried them in flames, no longer welcome in our home.
We noticed the smoke before the fireman. They both hovered above the ruin next door: an empty unit, a Chinese restaurant and what was once a liquor store. He said we were lucky, having not burned to death while we slept. How quickly it should have spread to our fence. We asked if it was arson. He responded,
It wasn’t until eight months later our neighbor told us what happened.
3 a.m. Some men found her going home from a friend’s. She never made it home. Her nightmares, realized on the other side of our fence. Three boards snapped half as easy as a young girl’s neck and left a hole that can never be filled.
I never learned the name her mother gave her.
Only that she’d never be seventeen.
Some nightmares don’t wait for you to fall asleep.
The holes we carry with us make us who we are.
What we can fix.
What we learn to live with.