(Unintentionally & ironically posted on the first day of 5th grade.)
The first time I saw Janey was in the Atlanta airport, Terminal C. She was tall and thin, her mom dragging her by the arm, late for a flight. She was at least 12-years-old and her hair was straight and brown and all the way down her back. I had too much time to waste before a flight to Gainesville and I was dragging along the terminal with my backpack and cut up clothing. Some people wear suits to catch a plane, I dress like I’m homeless.
When we pass each other my skin burns and I turn around, waiting for her to look back. Just a glance… but she never does, her left arm well in front of her being dragged along to the gate.
I wonder how many times I fake smile writing this.
Janey is on a beach with friends listening to a California Girl song. She’s drinking underage beer and wearing sunglasses, I walk past her on the way to the salt and water of the Gulf. Her hair is bleached and she has piercings stacked on top of each other in both ears. Her eyes look hollow behind the glass, the skin around them black from stained-cheap eye shadow. The song goes on and on about the sun and short shorts and parties that never end. I swim straight out into the ocean, more worried about sharks than the red flag and riptide. I did, after all, grow up in Spielberg’s Jaws era.
I stop writing my screenplay in mid-sentence, overwhelmed by the fear of death in a hollow room, surrounded by handfuls of photographs and notebooks full of nothing. I stare at the front door, I imagine the snarling growls of wolves, predators, this world if you let it. I take comfort in simple securities- blankets, taxi locks, brass knuckles and seatbelts. I walk thru Southside and I hear the California Girl lyrics again. The parties never end, they never ever do…
I wake up in Atlanta, a city rough with all night left-behind diners, rock-n- roll shows and gay discos. My teenage days once wasted away on North Avenue waiting in line for a punk band that wouldn’t bother for fuel in Birmingham, USA. North Avenue, and Little 5 Points, stumbling past the rude indie-store clerks, the homeless asking for change, and the rich spike punks asking for change. Janey is there, in the 5 Points, talking to herself, angry in beat-up jeans and a ratty Subhumans t-shirt. Everyone in Little 5 Points seems tense, everyone is fake snarling. I watch her stop and speak to different locals, their reactions all the same. No money, no needle, fuck off. 5 Points is so strung out, so “on the line” for violence. Like everywhere else, I never really fit in, I wish Janey didn’t either.
Janey is 21, barely, and begging me to let her see her boyfriend. It’s raining, we are surrounded by garbage, and it’s all happening too fast in an Elyton alley. I watch the police flashlights wave back and fourth up ahead and I hear Tommy yell for me not to worry about bringing the medic equipment. I leave Janey with a cop who lets her smoke in his squad car while I walk against the alley in the rain… go see what her boyfriend would’ve looked like if he was still alive. (He is not)
Janey is in the back room of an underground women’s shelter. If you didn’t know the shelter existed you would never know that it existed, and that’s the point. Women hide from evil that not only hurt them once, but is looking to hurt them further. Janey has a worn away face, scarred arms and dirty hair, with clean blankets and a rusted cot frame. The lockers have hand-written bible scripture on them and nicknames in quotes. She is behind me biting her nails, leaning against the lockers. I have no idea how old she is but I turn around when I think she says my name. I bite my lip to blood and hurt, trying not to make eye contact. She walks away, around a corner, and off stage.
Then that one scene… the one where I fall off completely.
And I hear Janey screaming in Northside.
I am the only one on the porch, kneeling under burning rafters and waiting on water to fill the nozzle in my hand. The front door is wide open, nothing but red streaks and smoke inside. I hear Janey scream and I scream back, “Where!?” I go inside alone and fight my way up the stairs, hearing her scream, screaming back at her, hearing her scream again…
My mask sucks in on my face as the air begins running out. The fire is over, more or less, but it’s pitch black in the early afternoon, thick smoke and charred walls have nowhere to go. But Janey isn’t here. I see a window and, for a second, I think about jumping out of it, but that would be crazy. I yank my mask off when the air ends. The pitch black stings my eyes, rips into my nose, my mouth, my lungs, and I don’t like it.
“Stairs”, I scream.
Someone grabs my hand and pushes it against a wall. I feel the dip of the first stair and relax… believe me, I know the way down.
I fall down the next 18 stairs. Me plus the weight of the gear measures in well over 300 pounds. I laugh when I hit the bottom, and I don’t tell anyone about the screams.
FADE TO BLACK:
Janey is walking down the median of Highway 31, defeated, when I finally lose it. Memories of white trash teenage romance, laughing and marginally breaking the law (my late 1980’s) prove too much to confront on a road run over with bullshit strip malls, fast food joints and, now, the nightmares of four college girls burning in a crummy hotel. I think of Janey in college room hotels, I think of her in underground women’s shelters, in gutters and backstreets as well. All the wrong places, all the wrong people, all the way down.
So what if this is heartbroken?
So what if this is doom and gloom 100%? Fake smiles, false hellos and Smiths records on a sinking ship. Are you fake smiling now?
ARE YOU FAKE SMILING WITH ME NOW?
Because I’m snarling.
I hold Janey’s hand along New York City streets, a Manhattan Christmas, the two of us in search of Greenwich Village and peanut butter sandwiches. Janey is wearing a faux fur jacket with a hood that I keep pulled over her ears. She says it makes her look like a miniature King Kong, and she’s right. I hold her hand and flag down a taxi, the horns and cold fading away behind us.
I usher her into the cab, pull the door closed and lock it. I buckle her seatbelt, then mine.
Simple security to keep away the wolves.
“When I see a woman on the news, who didn’t ask to be abandoned or abused, it doesn’t matter who she is… I think about you.” – Colin Raye