(Everything, as always, is true, or at least as true as I remember. Names are changed, it’s getting to be a habit.)
The one time Briana saw her dad was in a folded-over picture cupped in her mom’s hand. It was a 1978 overheated June, she was riding in the backseat of a wrecked and green Chevy Nova down Highway 11 to meet him for the first time in a Circle K parking lot. She was five-years-old then, which meant her mom would soon turn 20.
Briana looked forward to seeing Dad, the handsome boy in the folded-over photo. They waited, and her mom cried, she didn’t understand why, nothing but a young and dumb teenager soaking up cigarettes and Coca-colas somewhere between Trussville and the White Projects of Woodlawn. “Somewhere between Heaven and Hell”, to coin Mister Mike Ness.
Dad never showed, her mom threw the picture away, and Briana never looked for her father again.
I met Briana when I was 14 and I’d just started looking for something.
I started looking in dead American writers. Hemingway hitting his knuckles bloody on a marlin before writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, blood dripping on the pages of a book with torn, dusted covers all across high school libraries. And Fitzgerald smiling, drinking poison and furious about every verb and adjective. I stood over his grave in Rockville once, envying the great dead American writer(s). I read their books, I hid in the pages. I stared at every word.
I stole anarchist books from high school libraries, and I bought zines with cut-and-paste pages. DIY philosophies meets ancient political manifestos, I read them both leaning against a Circle K wall, skateboard and Coca-colas.
A decade later I stumbled through Hollywood, still looking, now on the Boulevard of every boy and girl’s vision of the Runaway American Dream.
Dana’s friend tried to kiss me and I didn’t kiss her back. It was way past 2:00am and we were in a nameless park on its benches in the heart of it all. Surrounded by trees, blue and red and yellow city lights in the distance, faint highway noise. Dana told us about the skinhead wars, she was a skinhead. Her and her dark skin and Chelsea bangs and Doc Marten boots. Dana’s friend was dark skinned too, but without the tough guy/tough gal air. I still didn’t kiss her back.
Dana told campfire tales of the Hollywood skinheads and where they left each other bleeding and dead, the gangs (primarily) divided over white power rhetoric and anti-white power rhetoric. 5 on 1 fights bruised the celebrity walk of stars. Dana’s beliefs, and skin color, told me which side she was on. Some gang called SHARP. Skin-Heads Against Racial Prejudice. (I love clever acronyms, no sarcasm intended) Shaved heads would quickly turn into shaggy surf bangs and beards, at least until the heat died down, until the rust blood washed off the razors.
Still looking… I listened to Dana’s tales of violence echo away into the California stars. I thought of her years later when I waded through the violence in suicides.
Tarrant’s man still wore his Oakland Raider’s jacket in the 100 degree indoor hot, the gun in his lap in the blood in the end. Tarrant and her man lived behind a garage, in a hidden room, with tacks in rap posters and records in a stack against the wall. There was a Corvette in pieces in the garage and I hate fucking sports cars. I tilted my head to the side to stare at his body, see if an alternate angle would make this seem less real. Tarrant did a lot of screaming, but she didn’t cry. They taught me to laugh so I did, and I kept looking.
(They taught all of the hunters to laugh. Laugh at danger, shrug off blood and guts, fall asleep with an eyeful of took-their-life teenagers, burned bodies and cut-in-half car wreckers. Laugh. Laugh, keep going… or collapse under the weight of brutality. If you want to help humanity, then learn to shelve your own.)
Betty V. was pretty in an ugly neighborhood crying, her eyes running down her face in black smears and pink circles. The headlights of the SUV were still on, she kept pointing at it over and over. I got out of Engine 14. Her boyfriend had celebrated his early release from rehab with some puncture-wound heroin. He was collapsed behind the wheel, eyes empty and jaw flared back and up, mouth agape, pulse grounded. He looked… dead, and his heart wasn’t pumping.
A medic’s IV, another needle, and Narcan, the great overdose reverser, put him back in this world. He sat up in a zombie-embedded confusion, violent and dizzy. Betty V. kept crying. I leaned my head to the side and looked in her eyes. It was raining, she was still crying, and my view of her never changed. Her eyes seemed so sad.
And then that one time I looked in Portland… the city’s majority runaway citizenship, and heroin dilemma, too many strip joints and Chuck Palahniuk. I stayed in an upstairs flat with closet junkies and their blue-black dyed hair, we stopped by the Salvation Army Store to buy sweaters for the beach. The beach was brilliant cold and beautiful and there were huge rocks in the water, white waves smashing violently around them. The stairs from the street to the beach went straight down and I was lost to the left of a USA map, Pacific Northwest. Teenage girls on family vacations rode horses next to backpack transient punks throwing a baseball. It felt more like hiding than hunting.
Until last week and the 4th of July when I went back to the White Projects where Briana grew up, only now named the Mexican Projects. We were once two dumb 15-year-olds driving through alleys with street names to change shirts for a high school football game. The first black family moved into the White Projects in the early 1980s and the neighborhood drove a burning car through their living room that night.
(I once created a fictional neighborhood in a novel and modeled it after these alleys. I named it Nopelika.)
I drove Engine 19 down a now-Mexican alley to find fire. Gangsters with shaved heads and white t-shirts leaned up against cars and clothes lines. An old lady walked past me with no jaw, an oxygen tube in her nose, small tank on her hip. A handful of cops smoked cigarettes, leaning against their cruisers. And the kids! The kids were everywhere, in the street and dirt. They stared at the engine and I waved and smiled. They looked at my tattoos, I looked in the windows of their homes and the black electrical tape holding together the frames, the uneven breaking doors and chipped away walls.
Briana is so long gone, and I doubt I’ll ever find her.
But I kept looking. I needed something- a meaning, a purpose, and at the very least, a valid explanation.
I found a stack of 1980’s movies, Breakfast Clubs and Outsiders and Pretty Pinks. Pony Boy killed two Socs with a switchblade, John Bender got birthday cigarettes, and the poor girls got the rich boys.
I found a handful of 1970’s adult contemporary songs and they said something about the good dying young.
And I found weights. I ran, and sweat, and bled. I fought myself over and over, since nothing is ever, ever, good enough. I found reckless abandon, a neighborhood born of hell and rotten hotel rooms at 3:00am with girls on their way to somewhere else. More hiding than hunting.
I found fire. I taped a piece of paper to my locker, it read “You are never finished.”
Hiding, I found nothing. There was never any secret one-sentence summary that explained it all… no religion, or message in the clouds. The only meaning was there’s not one, keep going.
I am the hunter, passing through this world never content and never comfortable, always looking for… something.
Her eyes in the rain.
A photo of a father that doesn’t exist.
And Briana look at me now. My eyes are open and forward, absorbing the suffering of others, the violence and loss, and missed moments. I try to embrace the actions and people that actually matter, ignore everything else, keep going.
Until the end, I am the hunter, coded and cursed with four words…
Something I once read taped to my locker.
“All of her lovers all talk of her notes and the flowers that they never sent. And wasn’t she easy? And isn’t she pretty in pink?” – Psychedelic Furs.