There was dust everywhere. Soft, powdery brown, rising up in little puffs when she tapped her toes in it. And it was cold. She wasn't dressed right. The sun was slipping down and down, over the cliff that jutted into the water, and the shadows crept like icy fingers as the mood in the air shifted to something meaner. She watched the ocean from up above, imagining what the sand would feel like, gritty and sharp, and listened to the crash of each wave as it tumbled onto the shore and rolled back out to the sea. The edge of the earth. Except you couldn't make a clean jump off. The sea would catch you and sweep you back. There was no way to leap off the spinning orb of blue and free fall into the black. We are all stuck here, she thought, walking around in circles until we wither into the ground and blow away in clouds of dust. Tap, puff. Tap, puff.
She wanted to go home. There was an unbearable ache for home filling up her chest cavity and making it feel empty at the same time. What home even was anymore, she didn't know. The smell of toast. Falling face first into a pile of clean laundry. Pushing her face into a screen door until it left a tiny grid on the tip of her nose. Standing barefoot on asphalt in the dark, feeling the leftover warmth from the day. Being carried up the stairs in the blur of sleep.
What if home was just being seven years old, and there was no going back ever again?
That thought made her squeeze herself so tight that she almost thought she would implode like a star and become a tiny little dense ball, rooted in the dust by the immense weight of loneliness until the sea eroded the shore and reached her, pulling her into the watery dark.
She could feel her mind going to a dark place and she knew that could be dangerous, so she looked for something beautiful. A bird. Soaring back and forth above her. He glided on the wind over the line between land and sea, flapping only when he needed to. It looked relaxing. She decided that he was protecting her. As long as the white bird circled above, she was safe. Not alone.
She had tried to sleep at the house. People were moving around a lot. Someone was even blasting a record in one room and dancing to it while everyone else zoned out. She told the guy, Rick, who lived there that she wanted to lie down and he took her into a quiet room. But then he stayed, thinking she had given him some sort of invitation, she guessed. She couldn't ask him to leave in his own house so she just excused herself and started walking. She heard someone say her name as she was leaving but she didn't turn around. "Teenie, you gotta see this.", she sort of heard from the porch. But she didn't have to see it. She had seen plenty in the last week, and it was time to take a walk.
She walked through the neighborhood, down towards the PCH. Once she was on the open road, she crossed to the beach side and started walking south. They had been nestled way up in Malibu for a week, staying at Rick's parents' beach house. They were out of town for two weeks renewing their wedding vows in Hawaii or something. Everyone who had been floating around and kind of staying in the van went over for a party the first night and never left. Rick didn't care as long as someone bought his drugs.
Teenie had come down the coast with her friend Carol. They had just decided to drop out of UC Santa Barbara together and spend the semester trying to make music instead. They told their parents they were doing internships in a LA and hitchhiked down to Venice beach to play on the boardwalk and try to meet some people who knew about the scene. They didn't have anywhere to stay really. Carol had a connection to some friend of her brother's but his apartment was cramped and dirty and he already had a guy sleeping on the couch. They slept on the floor the first night and met Stevie at the beach the next day. He had a mop of sun bleached curly hair and smiled like a cheshire cat the whole time they were playing. He told them he liked their song, offered them a joint and invited them to a party. They had been at the party ever since.
At first it was fun. She was down for an adventure and opening her mind to new things. Both she and Carol had smoked pot plenty of times, eaten mushrooms a time or two at college parties. It wasn't really the drugs that had started to weigh her down. It was the endlessness of it all. In school, people were out to have a good time and get fucked up on the weekends but everyone had at least some intention of showing up to class during the week. People wanted to pass. They wanted to sleep at night and wake up in the morning and eat real food. No one here wanted to do any of those things. People were always a little glazed over and far off in a cloud of substances. And they slept during odd hours or not at all. Someone was always playing music too loudly. Everything was messy. People were groping each other on the couch while someone else was trying to get anyone at all to listen to them talk about nothing. Someone was always trying to touch her before they asked her name. She had lost Carol to Stevie almost right away. They were always draped over each other in an upstairs bedroom, in cloud of smoke. They only came out in search of tv dinners and pot. On the seventh day, at the peak of a searing and vivid mushroom trip, Teenie realized that no one here mattered. No one here was trustworthy. No one loved her. No one would miss her if she left. In the moment it didn't make her sad at all. She observed it like a scientific fact, and decided she should take a nap. When Rick put his clammy hand on her hip bone, she decided to leave instead.
She walked along the endless row of beach houses for what felt like hours and hours. The doors that faced the street were all modest compared to what she knew the beach side must look like. Floor to ceiling windows. Open decks. Balconies. The back doors were for utility only, plain and unadorned. She observed them all carefully, giving them a little reverence that she was sure they almost never got. Every single one had a personality. Welcoming, warm, ominous, rude, jovial, lonely, condescending…she had no idea how many doors she must have evaluated by the end. Millions.
Finally she reached a public beach parking lot, wandered in and sat by the picnic area, elevated above the water. Her trip was starting to fade away, as was the day. She was overcome with a feeling of loss for both. The chill in the air seemed to penetrate her heart and she imagined that it was blue. She wished she could shelter her own heart in her hands and warm it back up. How sad that we keep them in cages.
Right as the last speck of fire slipped out of view, a young girl climbed the stairs from the beach and waited impatiently at the top. "Mommm. Hurry uppp.", she was saying. She stomped the sand off her feet and looked down at her mother. "Uch. Just give me the key to the car.", she said, and descended a few steps to retrieve it. A tired looking woman with her hands full of towels and beach chairs came into view. Teenie watched the encounter escalate to a fight that ended with the daughter storming off to the parking lot to sulk in the car. She didn't realize she was crying until the mother caught her eye. They held each other's gaze for just a moment until they both looked away, embarrassed.
The mother and daughter went home. Teenie and the bird stayed on the edge a little longer.
Photos by Yann Bean.