Dancing with Earthquakes
"Sorry, I didn't get my pot," "Too much pot makes me violent," and "If you don't smoke this pot with me I'll punch you," are among the apologies that were given to me after one of my exes punched me into my future great-grandchildren's 100th birthdays. But what stands out to me the most is, "Sorry, you know I'm sick."
The latter often rang in my ears during my interaction with Hobo the Hippo*. After the first year of our four-year acquaintance, he told me that his father broke his legs with a baseball bat when he was an infant, which later caused the many problems that he experienced afterward.
"Don't talk to my mother about it, though," he warned. "It was traumatic for her, too, and she can't stand to think of what that man did to one of her babies."
"Plus, I hear voices," he said, after grabbing me when I attempted to leave through a fire escape. "I see and hear things that aren't real."
I nodded patiently, trying to soak it all in. "Well, I'm so sorry to hear that," I said finally, in a compassionate tone. "I really hope you seek professional help, so you can address these issues and —"
He stuck his foot out and swept it under me.
"Sorry," he said, as I rubbed the back of my head. "The voices told me to do that."
Once, he told me that back in the day, he used to run with the Rolling Sixties, and the 86th and Hoover Crips.
"I was the bomb," he said. "Only a nobody like you would be grateful to hang out with a somebody like me," he said in his best Al Pacino voice, donning his dark glasses, wrapping his rag over his balding head. He gave up after several tries of tying it around, then settled for performing the Running Man to "Get Money" by Junior M.A.F.I.A.
If being the 20-year-old mother of a 36-year-old man not added some element of unpredictability and excitement into my life, I would have left the situation immediately. While I was away at work through a youth employment program in Hollywood that required a lot of backbreaking manual labor, (including adding to the graffiti instead of painting over it, or playing chess while everyone else dug up cesspools, or chasing our bosses with jackhammers) my son boyfriend stole my earnings from a cash box I thought I had kept skillfully hidden, (on the top of a dresser), which he attributed to a delusion. "I thought the money was mine," he said.
Once, when I gave him $60 to buy groceries, I went back home, covered in dirt and paint and graffiti sprayed on the back of my pants, and he said, "I spent all of the money on crack."
I was tempted to ask him if the voices told him to on this occasion, but his plaintive, "I wasn't trying to do that," was enough.
Later that day, with my face looking like a rusted pan and my hair like I had been near an exploded land mine (I think after I proved to Hippo the Hobo that "propoteous" is actually spelled, "preposterous,") I went to a phone booth and called his sister.
"Is Hobo...uh, your brother...mentally ill?" I asked.
"Mentally —? What are you talking about?" She asked. "He just acts crazy so he can get S.S.I."
"But he has these pills that he takes for paranoid schizophrenia."
"He probably uses them to get high, you crazy nut."
"So he's not really—?"
"He's just as normal as me."
I strongly agreed. "Tell me...was he ever a gangbanger?"
"Naw! He just affiliated with some hardcore kids in the building we stayed in when we were growing up."
"But what about that gang tattoo on his arm?"
"He probably gave it to himself."
I ventured, "Did his father really bust his legs with a baseball bat when he was an infant?"
She snorted at my phenomenal lunacy. "That man never had more than a sprained wrist when he was five."
"Hmmmm..." I rubbed my chin. "I did think there was was something a bit off about his story that his mother didn't want me to bring up that subject. She seems to hate him."
"What?" she shrieked.
Realizing I'd said this out loud, I asked, "Tell me... why does your brother lie so much?"
"Because you believe everything he tells you."
I shrugged. "And I suppose that the reason he beats me is because —"
" —you let him!" she finished for me.
I nodded and grinned sweetly. "Well, as usual it's been more than a pleasure speaking to you. Thanks for the enlightening info." I made several faces at the phone receiver. Seeing her drive by me on the curb, staring at me as she talked on her cell phone, I slammed the receiver down and ran for my life.
I went home to see which excuse Hobo would give me for grabbing me by the hair and yanking me around for 30 seconds or more. "Sorry," he said. "I had a flashback, and I thought you were one of my old cell mates, who had a crush on me."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe you," I muttered, mentally recording this one to have something to commemorate later.
The next day, he shouted, "Where is the money you were supposed to pay for my cell phone bill? Now I won't have any video games to play after blowing my whole S.S.I. check on crack, LOSER!" he said, pushing me against the wall.
I said, "Next time shape your hand into an 'L' on your forehead to add some flourish."
He said, "For screwing me over, I'm not speaking to you ever again. Get out of my house." He began packing my things.
"I guess this adds about 10 years to my life," I muttered, as he shoved me and my suitcase out in the hall and slammed the door.
Fearing he would come back to me claiming a hallucination, I wandered through town, wondering if roughing it on the streets for one night being offered crack by a variety of interesting characters would suit me, then I ran into a guy who lived in the apartment complex that I had stayed in with Hippo, and told him about my situation. He allowed me to stay with him and his roommate for a while. When he asked me to identify my ex, I said, "He acts a little like the original Daffy Duck on PCP and Acid, if that helps."
"Thanks, I think I know him," he said.
Shortly afterward, it turned out this new person, Bilbo Baskins, as I called him, (not to his face), had a crush on me, and his roommate, Brunella, was prone to jealousy, so I did what I could to avoid being kicked out by both of them while dodging Bilbo's nauseating advances and his roommate's demands to keep the bathroom, (especially the toilet), sparkling clean. I kept Bilbo amused with my ex's "'Sorry I'm sick," stories, none of which he bought for a second. "He functions on a regular basis," Bilbo noted, with a snort. "I mean, how would you feel if I borrowed a watch from you and then gave it back to you and it was broken? Then I said, "Sorry, you know I'm sick?"
After going to my ex's pad to recover my VCR and Juiceman Juicer, I came back to my not-so-secret admirer's apartment, fingernail markings on my neck. "You're not the one walking up to him going, 'Sorry, you know I'm sick,'" he reassured me.
Once, when we were walking down the stairs in the apartment building, Bilbo said, "What if somebody slid down the banister, and hit the wall up there?" He pointed to a projection beneath the above flight of stairs. "You'd be like, 'What happened?' and they'd be like, 'I don't know! I'm sick!'"
I shrugged. "Pretty accurate."
Once, when we were outside in the dead of night, he said, "Sssssh..."
"What?" I asked.
"Sssssh...." he said, looking around.
"SSSSHHHHHHHH!" He said again, looking around deliberately, carefully, scanning the area. Then he straightened up said, "I'm sick."
I mumbled, "I believe you."
Once, when Brunhilda Brunella criticized Bilbo for neglecting her, (I never really understood their relationship), and for staying too long at an elderly neighbor's house where he had been dropping off some items as a favor, Bilbo said, "Well I can't just be like 'Here's the stuff —'" He pantomimed throwing the items and ran out the door in demonstration, shouting, ''Bye, I'm sick!'" He went back in, saying, "She trapped me in a verrrrrry long conversation."
My ability to play Bilbo didn't last for long. He began to resent me for hanging around in his house while not reciprocating his feelings for me, and I had nowhere else to go, so I eventually stayed at a domestic violence shelter where a woman on staff screamed at me and the other residents on a regular basis, and where the food at mealtimes ran out within five minutes of being served. I viewed it all as a form of therapy.
Months afterward, I had saved enough money to move into my own apartment, where a guy who later stayed with me kicked me out and allowed practically 10 other girls to move in.
I got up and brushed myself off. "Well, at least I'm consoled by the fact that it can't get any worse."
I looked in my mailbox and found a bill demanding numerous back payments on a car that I had promised to pay for Hippo the Hobo, (who, I decided, had spent the money I gave him on methamphetamines).
"Well," I said, making an origami alligator out of the bill and tossing it in the gutter. "Guess I was wrong."
*All names have been changed to protect the guilty.
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