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Rights of the bold.

We were beautiful but didn't know it.

In the sea of used and abused, this was clearly a winning combination.

We loved the music, the lights erupting from darkness. The presence of those who dared. A well spring of raw

energy that made us feel alive, too. We would cram ourselves into tiny cars, find parking spots several blocks away from the club, because let's be real, we barely had enough money to get into the club (and sometimes not even that) let alone pay for parking. And in we went, finding a way to a dark corner--claiming the edges for our own, as we hadn't earned the rights of the bold for the center. Not yet anyway. The scene: where one came to notice or be noticed. A clamoring of hope and transformation--all of us inching away from what we had been to what would forever shape us. Hollywood was like that.

So, when she pulled out the typewriter and the onion papers, plopping them down on the dining room table with a puff of cigarette smoke, I wasn't exactly warm to her direction. "If you are going to live here, you need a real job. Learn."

I had recently moved in with my grandmother after waking up one morning, gasping for air–-the realization that it was time to move on (a sign that has guided me in the years since). My family's outpost in the high desert felt so far away from all that I treasured: music, art, and ocean...and work so that I could pay for my first year of college in the fall. My grandmother, on the other hand, was ideally situated in the heart of Orange County, minutes away from the beach, record stores, and the allure of Hollywood. At seventeen, location was all I needed to kickstart this life of mine.

Grandmother was less enthusiastic, but we didn't really know one another and she was lonely, so why not. We were a doomed partnership from the beginning.

I arrived with my 83 Honda Civic filled to the brim with my record collection, posters to decorate my new "adult" space, and piles of clothes. She put on her best face, welcoming me into her "home," a mobile home that looked cheery enough on the outside thanks to the yellow and white facade, but as soon she opened the sliding door, I knew I was trespassing on a life she had been intent on keeping to herself.

There was no light here. Each room weighed down by heavy furniture and stale cigarettes. Dark green carpet shagged across the floors. I would later learn never to walk barefoot, as it was often damp with Teddy the poodle's pee, impossible to find in the darkness until you stepped right in it. The only color could be found on the walls in a series of oil painted clowns sneering at me as I made my way to my new room. "Settle in and then we'll make dinner," she instructed. More clowns sneered at me from above the bed. "Yeah, settle in, little lady," they mocked. The room was not vacant and they knew it.

Lining the walls, hiding under the bed, filling the bureau were the belongings of grandmother's husband. He might have been securely confined in a federal penitentiary in Arizona, but the remains of his life were archived in this room. Stacks of horse racing tips sheets, ledger sheets running black and then red, and most disturbingly, hundreds of sex books...the joy of it and otherwise. I shut the door and found grandmother for dinner.

I had come too far to run back home. So, I settled in and we found our groove: ironing on Sundays for her work week at the phone company, strange concoctions for dinner (she was not a cook and I was equally as helpless), martinis for her real dinner (heavy on the vodka, a hint of vermouth), typing practice, and then bed. In the mornings, I would wait to emerge from the sex den until I heard her Cadillac pull out of the carport. I'd quickly pet Teddy, get dressed, drag the daily share of archival material to the dumpster, and then hit the road, eager to find a job that did not involve typing.

I didn't know what to make of this woman nor did I know how to talk to her. The feeling was mutual as I discovered in letters to and from her imprisoned husband. I was always looking for clues to who she was and these stolen weekly letters provided some insight. "Teenagers are rotten and can't be trusted. Don't take any shit." he wrote. Funny from a man in prison. On some nights, when one martini turned to four, she'd sink into her recliner listening to Frank Sinatra. Those were the good nights. Sloppy, yes. But she'd follow threads back to before marrying a con artist, before the devastating death of her first husband, before giving birth to her beautiful children (my mom, her firstborn), before wars, to a time when she too used to dance in Hollywood clubs. She would glow and look me in the eye. That was when she knew exactly who she was: beautiful and just beginning.

I eventually found that non-typing job--a clerk in a record store--much to her disapproval and even saved up enough for my first year of college (as well as many, many, many nights out). The summer was filled with ups and downs as the two of us danced around one another's expectations--too experienced and not experienced enough to have any degree of meaningful connection. Later, some years after I graduated from college, her husband would be released from prison only to rob a bank and lead police on a low speed chase in her Cadillac. He was gunned down in her carport. My roommates and I watched it on the news in silence.

And she continued on, for many years at that. She had already lived through incredible tragedy. What was one more to hide behind lock and key? She wasn't of a generation to complain. Her role was to survive and that often meant donning full armor to keep everyone out or simply adapting to a new set of circumstances.

I understand it now.

It was the best she could do.

So instead of wondering about the many questions I wished I had asked her when I had the chance, or the gift of eye contact that she deserved, or apologies for the vodka I filched, I imagine us. I grab her hand, pulling her into the center, music and lights erupting from the stage. We are no longer young. We are strong and we know it.


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