I went back to Vegas last month.
When I say that, I feel like Christian in Moulin Rouge - "I first arrived in Paris one year ago." And then the zippy time-going-in-reverse thing.
Not so here. Here, it was slower.
Ten years ago, I didn't have a car. No one had a car. We walked everywhere. So to get back to my old haunts, volta and I walked from the strip down to Maryland Ave.
Layne gestures - "That's the apartment complex Denise and I used to live in."
Denise was the first person Layne told he was bi. Upon hearing it, she freaked out, barricaded herself in the downstairs of the apartment for months.
I remember that Goodwill. I bought my shorts for work there. Before I started dancing at Glitter Gulch, I used to walk up and down Fremont Street passing out cards for them. The uniform was a short-sleeved white tuxedo shirt, black shorts, and a bow tie and cummerbund. I still have the bow tie and cummerbund.
Cafe Copioh is gone.
Stacey and I snuck back to the bathroom together. Mike would throw us out if he knew, we figured - but he was probably too tired. Two fat lines on the toilet tank - then the world was clear, and we went back out for more coffee.
A bunch of us on the couch in the center of the room, Brandy pretending to tie off to shoot up, and we had to hold her down.
Geordie wearing a Star Wars sheet as a cape. He always looked like a line drawing.
The Arthur Murray dance studio next door is still there. Layne flashed it once.
Behind Copioh. The shortcut. Retracing steps. The apartment complex we lived in with Jackson and sometimes Garet. Low to the ground and sunbleached, white and dirty.
"Jackson, what the hell? I just crashed out!"
"I had to wake you up. You're like Sara in Moonheart, you know stuff, I gotta get you when you're not thinking. Freewrite for me."
"Frank, if you play "Heart of Glass" one more time, I'm gonna fucking kill you."
Layne's eyes slightly unfocused, lip bitten, as he tinkers with his bass.
Sitting on the floor, Hal leaning over to kiss me, dipping down to kiss my breast through the thin white tank top. "Hal, no."
Eyes dark brown, confused, sad. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I'll figure that out." And I did, and I made a list, and in closing, "I think with Hal, it's just that I see him as a big brother, and he sees me as his confessor..."
I aim, take a picture.
Layne in the doorway, shoving me out. I shove back. Frank laughs inside and, struggling with himself, Layne succumbs to that, decides that being laughed at is the greater evil - and hits me, and closes the door. My glasses are broken, and my dad's not coming to town for another two days.
I walk, dreamlike, toward the courtyard apartments, where everyone has a little plot of sand. Morgan's apartment - ten years ago it had purple stairs, punk stickers on the door. Now, of course, it's just another apartment, and we walk quickly through the courtyards so's to avoid looking like we're casing the joint.
Morgan's girlfriend has dumped him, has left for Japan. They're one of those couples who you never thought would break up, but here's Morgan, alone. I flit around the apartment, selecting music, making some ramen; at his request, I sit, and he rubs my shoulders, fingers slippery with fragranced oil. My shoulders, my neck; he dips down to my cleavage only briefly. When he's done, he kisses my forehead and says, "Thank you."
I'm deliberately going out of order now.
We approached the two-story strip mall from behind. I see an afterimage of myself on the stairs, talking to Brian. Brian, who wasn't a speedfreak, who was a normal guy, as compared to us. More on the stairs...
"The guy from 7-11 wants to know if you've got anything."
Layne: "You're not supposed to be in this *business*!"
"I'm gonna fucking kill him for dragging you into this."
"He knows I'm your girlfriend, he knows that you sell, it's not a big fucking deal, okay?
And around the front. The empty storefront that used to be Cafe Espresso Roma.
Two tickets dropped onto my magazine. I looked up, blinking, but the guy was already halfway across the cafe. I followed him. "Uh, excuse me. Did you *mean* to drop these?"
"Yeah. Tickets to a local punk show. I'm a promoter, I get lots of them. Seen you around, thought you might like them."
"Thanks... hey, what are you drawing?
"A comic book. I have a zine, half of it's a comic book and half of it's articles." His name was Romney.
Around the front. A blank space where there used to be a table. I remember exactly.
Jason brought me over to the table, introduced me around. "Darryl and Christine. That's who I'm crashing with. And that's Layne."
His back against the wall. He looked up and gave a shy, quick smile before ducking his head back down to whatever he was writing. If a man's face can be beautiful, Layne's was, and then there were the pale, pale blue eyes, the tumble of dreadlocks that used to be a mohawk but were now surrounded by stubble instead of shaven skin. The rectangular glasses. No words. Hi, Layne.
Backtrack. Where I went before this.
The shortcut from Copioh. Layne had broken my glasses, so I was near-blind. Walking through the apartment complex that night. No one at Jackson's. Walked across, heading to Garet's place to see if he was around. Across the vacant lot.
"Hey," he said.
I have told this story before. I have told it aloud, I have told it on paper and in pixels, each time feeling more success in exorcising it. Nothing compares to the immediacy of it. I take my picture. I see where he grabbed me. I see where my shoe fell. I hear little-me asking for her shoe back. I feel little-me knowing that she was going to die.
I stood there. I would like to say that I stood with my head held heroically high, metaphorically brandishing a sword, a breeze teasing my hair like an unfurling banner, and declared, "You have no power over me!"
I stood there very quietly, with volta watching me. I stood with an inner stillness. And a little voice in the back of my head.
And you're not."
I walked on, as if in a daydream. The apartment complex. The apartment.
He dragged me out of the car over the driver's seat. Warned me that he'd kill me if I tried to get away or yelled for help.
When he lets me go, I turn and read the door number, squinting as hard as I can, so I can write it down, write everything down. For the police? For Layne? I don't know. I need to remember, to write it down
Today. I stand. I take a picture.
And this is when I fall apart, sobbing incoherently, and I manage to get it across to Volta that yeah, it's okay to hold me. And there are so many reasons why I'm crying. Terrible things happened here, and they haunt me; I can see little-me behind that door.
But I am crying from relief.
I am here, and he is not here.
His shadow is not here.
From the distance of ten years, I can see. And I see that, all along, he was so small.
We were all so small.
I had a nightmare ten years ago, and I have been half-awake for much of the time since.
But my eyes are open as I stand here with my camera.
And there are no monsters here.
And I'm crying because I finally, finally know that he is not here, that the monster is not coming, that now he's nothing, and he really only ever was nothing, this petty demon, this so-small beast.
Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.
That child was me. I have taken her back. I have taken back the shadow of myself that remained here on this cursed ground, the shadow that was trapped all of these years.
He is gone. He is gone, and the nightmare is gone.
And I am here.