Long Live Cool
I’ve woken up in some nasty places before, but nothing like this! I drew my eyes open, still in haze from last night. I sat up on the purple, stained shag rug carpet and looked around. People were drunk and all laid out. Half-naked as well. One girl even had her hand down the pants of who I think is her boyfriend. I could be wrong about the boyfriend part… There are probably more people lying around here somewhere. Broken or empty beer bottles and cans all over the floor. Twenty-eight… twenty-nine… thirty… many cigarette butts buried between the cracks of the hard wood. Empty glasses on the bar. Condom wrappers on the rug in the kitchen-bar. Booze, marijuana, and cigarette smoke still in the air. I think that’s some beer or urine near the front door. I can’t be too sure. I looked above me. A bright purple bra is hanging from the ceiling fan. Plus, there is some spaghetti sauce splattered across the ceiling with some spaghetti hanging stuck to it too. It’s all coming back to me, I think.
They let a sixteen-year-old into a sex party at a massage parlor house? Clearly they just didn’t care. I didn’t even really look my age. I’m tall enough to pass myself off as an eighteen-year-old gal. That’s how old I said I was and they let me in without any questions. Well, can’t think about that now. I’ve got to get home. I slowly try to get up off of this island of a shag rug. It is then I notice that my left arm feels so sticky. I drew it into my line of vision to see why. My hand to my elbow was cover in still-wet honey and some other substance that I didn’t recognize. I had a good guess on what that substance was, but I didn’t dare repeat it even in my head. I resisted my childish urge to lick my arm clean.
I definitely need to wash it off. I used my other arm to try and stand up. I nearly wobbled over back to the floor. I took another look around me. No stupid, you’re not dreaming. You were here last night. Just get dressed and get out of there before D.L. and Courtney start to get curious of where you really are! I looked around for where I left my clothes. The gin is still kicking my head’s ass from last night. I think I might still be high too. The clock ticking in the background sounds like it’s underwater. I have to fight to keep myself standing. Right, they took the girls’ dresses and hung them up in the bathroom to dry. I looked down at the rows of people lying before me. Ah, nice speed bumps of pale, bare flesh. Some of them pretty hairy. That’s least of my worries at the moment.
I began to make my journey to the hall bathroom. I had to step over bare skin and more unknown sticky material to get there. Damn it, I’m going to have to wash my arm and feet when I get to a sink. I finally made to the closed bathroom door. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that there are people laid out in there too. I slowly turn the door open. And sure enough, there are people laid out in the bathroom. Not as many as I thought, though. Just five people—three women and two guys. I quietly step over them to get into the bathroom.
There isn’t much soap to work with in this small cubby-hole bathroom. Just a thin bar of Dove. Still, I can’t complain. I’m surprised that the only thing clean in this place is the sink. Even any evidence of vomit has been washed down the drain. I try to push that from my mind as best as I could as I turn on the faucet. After a few washes, my left arm was finally clean. I need to get dressed now.
Many dresses are hanging on the shower rack. I look among the scraps of fabric that manage to pass themselves off as clothing to find my own skimpy dress. I finally spot a black and shimmery mini-dress hanging at the very end. I step over a shirtless nineteen-year-old guy lying next to the bathtub. So sorry buddy, but I have to get home. I reached up and grabbed my dress. Oh god, I can still smell that vintage apple wine in the thin fabric. Some asshole wanted to see us girls in our underwear last night. So the idiot took a bottle of wine, shook it up, and popped the cork outside in the backyard. Needless to say, he was pretty successful. I fought to keep my balance as I slide on the apple-scented dress over my head and cream orange blossom-colored and white bra and panties. I fought to straighten it out over my skinny body. I just need my purse and shoes. Now, where did I leave those? I shut my eyes to try and remember the night. It’s still hazy in my mind.
I quickly opened my eyes. Of course, the coats and purses would be in one of the back bedrooms of this place. Right, time to go searching. I came to the final room at the end of the hall and peeked inside. Bingo, baby! I stepped over more bodies to get into the room. How many people showed up at this party last night? There is no way a house/massage parlor this big could fit this many people at once. Then again, I had been drinking last night and not paying attention. I shut my eyes for a second as I step into the room. Slow down there, girl! One thing at a time. Get your purse and shoes, clean yourself up, get the hell out of this place, and worry about last night’s details later.
Okay, I’m looking for a small gold purse with and a white and pink stuffed bear clipped to it. I shut my eyes and do as little brain work as possible. It slowly came back to me. I hid my purse away somewhere in this room to keep it from getting stolen. Now, where did I put it? I slowly began to open different drawers and the closet to widen my search. Knowing myself, if I wanted to hide something from somebody, I would hide and bury it. Back to the closet it is. I opened it up and looked on the floor. Many shoes and broken sex toys littered it. Perfect place to hide a purse. Plus, I think everything’s clean. I began to dig for my purse like a dog for a bone. I think some of the shoes and toys were landing on the human speed bumps. I’m surprised that no one was shouting in pain because of it. Okay, there was a little grumble, but that’s about it. That didn’t stop me. I have to get home.
Finally, my fingers touch small triangular plastic. A nose! I push around more junk and see Sydney, my little bear keychain, peeking out at me. I feel myself smiling now.
“Hey baby,” I whispered to her. “Did you hate being buried under all of those nasty shoes and play things? Don’t worry; I’m here to take you home with me now.” I reached into the hole and drew out my purse. I opened my purse and looked inside. My wallet with money and school ID, a handful make-up, keys, cell phone, address book, gum, little black brush, iPod, and empty water bottle were all still inside. Good, my hiding spot worked. I closed up my purse and looked around for my black sandal high-heel shoes. I remembered that I stashed them in the TV cabinet in this room. Why hide shoes there? Well, why not? My cousin Chris hides bottles of beer all over his room. I guess it can be said that I learned a little something from him over the years.
I retrieved my shoes and made my way over to the dresser. Time to fix up myself so not to give away any evidence that I was out last night. I brush my reddish-black hair back behind and fix my bangs. After I touched up my make-up, I looked in the mirror at myself. The glassy pain in my brown eyes is the only evidence that I can’t hide. Other than that, I look, as my dear black cousin Lucas puts it, slutty. It pained me to say it, but he’s right for this go-around. I shook my head of such thoughts. I have to get home before Country and D.L. notice that I’m gone. So, it’s back over the human speed bumps out of the room, down the hall, and back through the living room. Don’t slip in the puddle by the door. Oh damn, I didn’t realize that there are miles and miles away from the door when you’re hungover. I took in slow breathes and proceeded to walk over the people.
I finally made it outside. The air smells so weird. It’s like after you have a nose bleed. I narrowed my eyes and looked around. It then occurs to me that this massage parlor house is in the ghetto. Here lied the problem: I don’t have my driver’s license yet. My only form of transportation alone in New Orleans is the bus. I have just walked out of a party that was held in a massage parlor house in the middle of the ghetto. No bus driver in their right mind would even dream of coming down the hood! The bus stop is a ten minute walk to the curb at the mouth of these projects. On top of that, I’m hungover and still disorientated. Nice one, Marla Carson! There is no way in hell that I am calling one of my cousins to get out of bed to come pick me up from here. I would never live it down; they would just mock me mercilessly. Plus, it’s Saturday morning and they just want to sleep in until noon.
I blew up my bangs in the air as I sighed. Looks like I’m going to have to walk to the bus stop. Oh boy… Under normal circumstances a ten minute walk to the entrance is no problem. But when you’re hung over, the stop is over ten thousand miles away. Well, can’t bitch about it now. As I began my walk of shame home, my mind just wandered back to my life and family.
My family is a special breed of crazy. We are the proud Braxton family. Our grandfather, Calvin “Cal” Braxton, he is the head of our scattered family. We are spread out from him in three branches: his son, Vince, his daughter, Winston, and a black branch, her name escapes me at the moment, but I’ve heard him call her “Sweet Thing.” Winston Braxton is my mother. My cousins are a wild bunch of people. They are Isaac, Chris, Lucas, Billie Jean, Jackson, Courtney, Rachel, Liz, and May. I was raised by my older cousin, Courtney, when I was only a baby. Her husband, D.L., came along and married her when I was six. He’s like a daddy to me. But with my cousin, Chris, not so much. He and D.L. are constantly fighting. I think Chris hates him; I don’t understand the fully story behind that one.
Grandpa Cal had a relationship with Sweet Thing for years. It wasn’t a friends with benefits thing either; he was truly in love with this woman. Unfortunately, his parents didn’t approve of their son marrying a black woman. But, Cal refused to end it with Sweet Thing. So, his parents decided to “fix” the problem. They married him off to Eliza Morgan at age eighteen. As predicted, this didn’t go well. Cal and Eliza hated each other and grandpa kept running back to Sweet Thing. His wife, just like everyone else in town, knew about it. Things only got worse when Sweet Thing got pregnant.
Even after Eliza’s death ten years later, Cal still wasn’t allowed to marry Sweet Thing. His parents threatened to cut off his inheritance if he did. They didn’t even like his daughter that he had by her. Everyone always talked about his “other” family around the town. But, did Cal care? She was his true love after all. I don’t understand why go through all of the headaches for somebody you love. But then again, if he didn’t keep pursuing her, I wouldn’t have my dear cousin Lucas, his older brother Jackson, and his younger sister, May.
Like I said before, my cousins are party animals. Ironically, they try to keep me innocent. I am the youngest of the bunch with May being two years older than me. Every time the three branches get together for any occasion, my cousins all gather together in the backyard or the big antique sun den in Cal’s old plantation house, Old Nightingale. They drink and talk about their wild parties and one-night stands. Every time they get to the good part, they turn to me and say, “Marla, don’t you want to go play with one of your dolls that grandpa bought you?” or “Marla, could you get me this?” and my classic favorite, “Marla, we left you a little present on your bed.” I used to play into their little plans, but as I got older, I learned that it was just a ploy to get me out of the room so they could continue their raunchy stories. I hate them for it now. What do they still think I’m five? I happen to know a little bit about anatomy, thank you! My cousin Chris is to blame for that.
I happened to look up along the sidewalk and noticed two old red hat ladies staring at me. I could read what was on their faces already. Disgust and shame. I sneered at them. What? Haven’t you seen a sixteen-year-old trying to get home before? I hate Southern hypocrisy. Everyone is expected to be nice and go to church in the South. But the people gossip and live in sin. Heck, we even had slavery in the South back in the day. All of that makes me embarrassed that I am half-Southern.
I looked around me as I kept walking to the entrance of the hood. The unnatural quiet of the streets are getting me the creeps. I feel like I’m in a survival zombie movie. The last hungover party girl wannabe left alive. The cars line the street like a snow fort. I can barely see over them. The still-darkened shops haven’t opened yet for the day. I wish they were; maybe then I could get some coffee or something to kill this hangover. No, I have to get home. I look as I keep walking. I hate when it’s quiet like this. It’s as if something bad is going to happen. I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. Or, is that the leftover pills? Quit thinking about that, stupid! Just get your ass home before D.L. gets up for the morning! I nearly fell against a ’78 Mustang as I kept walking. Why does ten minutes have to be so long this morning?
Snap! I felt my body almost falling over. I would’ve tasted pavement if I hadn’t broken my fall with a conveniently-placed white picket fence. I panted as I tried to force myself to remain standing up straight. Once I got my balance back, I looked down at my feet. Oh shit! My heel just broke in a crack in the sidewalk. Courtney just bought me these shoes last week too. She’s going to be so mad. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk the rest of the way barefoot. I slid off the pretty black-heeled sandals and carried them in my hand.
However it is when I got further away from the crack that I broke my heel in is when I realized that I have another problem. I happened to look down at my hands and see them covered in white paint. I looked back at the fence that saved me. It’s then I notice the fallen sign “Wet Paint” in the grass. Oh shit! I’m hungover, my dress smells like apple wine, my shoes are busted, and now I have white wet paint on my hands. Couldn’t get better!
I knelt down in the wet grass next to me and did the best to wipe off to any evidence of being out. I had to rub many times until I got them close to clean again. There is still paint on them, but it’ll have to do. Luckily for me, that wet paint fence trap is the sign that I am almost out of the hood. I push myself to keep walking.
In what felt like forever in my post alcohol-assaulted brain, I finally made it to the curb bus stop. Halle-bloody-lujah! I wobbled over to the entry of Commons Street and looked out into the street. Oh great luck, the first bus of the day has pulled up. My big grey and deep blue ticket to get out of trouble pulled up to the stop and opened its doors with a wide brush of wind. The bus driver’s saggy, baggy eyes suggested that he himself had a rough night last night too. Maybe, he’ll have some sympathy on me this morning. The bus driver gave me an odd look as he tried not to laugh at me.
“Whoa!” he said. “You really partied!” I cut him a cold him glare as I sneered at him.
“Just let me on, Raoul,” I mumbled. He held up his hands.
“Fine, fine,” the driver said. “Just get on.” I silently board the bus. Once the doors shut behind me, the bus pulled away into the city.
Oh the cold window of the bus feels so good against my forehead! I look out with glazed over eyes. The yellow lines on the road flash before my eyes as the bus drives along the street. My head still hurts. Eight bottles of Guinness can do that? I should stop drinking. But, I have to do it to prove that I can keep up with my cousins. Why do I do that? To escape from Chris? Maybe, but that’s not the reason.
I’m sick of being the one who gets left out. So, I drink and try to party more often whenever I can. I know it’s dumb, but I want to be part of the cool kids in the family. Give them a shocking story for that’ll blow all theirs out of the sky. But after all of the dirt I saw last night, maybe I should slow down with the partying until I’m eighteen. Miraculously, I’m still a virgin after last night, despite the drinking and the pills. This boy, I forgot his name, kept trying to flirt with me. He just wouldn’t stop following me around. I spent the whole night hiding in the bathroom. When I was sure that he stopped following me, I crept out into the living room and came into another sight that will need me to wash my brain out. You can actually do that with spaghetti? I don’t think I want to eat it ever again.
I suddenly began to sense someone watching me. I turned my head and saw three old ladies staring at me. They are judging me. Southern Hypocrisy at its finest.
Please feel free to look somewhere else now. Really, stop staring at me. My iPod would be a good thing to tune out everything right now. But given the fact that my head still hurts, the loud music would not be a good idea. Instead, I grabbed my cell phone and unlocked the keys. I got a text from Lucas. I opened up the message.
“Where are you? Call me as soon as you get this message.”
Oh look, Isaac texted me too. I opened that one up as well.
“Chris said you weren’t home. Where are you? I hope you’re not in trouble. Call me.”
I tightly clutched my phone in my hand. There it is again. I know my “big brother” cousins mean well, but it’s too early to deal with their worries and concerns. My head still hurts. I sat back and looked up at the bus ceiling as it left downtown. When will they all figure out that I’m not a child anymore? I mean, I will be eighteen in two years. Sure they are all adults, but I am just as much as a grown-up as they are.
I haven’t been innocent for a long time. I have my cousin Chris to thank for that in a sense. It all started when I was eight. He was thirteen at the time. I remember most of the details from that night. Courtney and D.L. went out on one of their date nights on that hot summer night in ’03. Chris was left to baby-sit me at the time. Nothing eventful happened for most of the night. Then, Chris gave me a heated drink after I had finished my strawberry pie from Sweet Thing. I remember that the drink had a fizzy taste to it. Pretty soon, I became sleepy. Chris shushed me and gently patted me on the head. I mumbled something to him. I couldn’t even make out my own words.
“It’s okay,” Chris repeated. “You’re just tired, I’ll take you to bed now.” He picked me up and carried me off to my room. He changed me into my pajamas and put me in the futon couch that I slept on in Courtney’s house. I thought Chris would go to his room, but he didn’t. Instead, he crawled right in the futon with me. He started to unbutton my bright yellow and pink PJ top and slip his hands inside. He began rubbing on me in a sexual way. I was so out of it that I thought I was dreaming the whole time. I heard him panting and groaning as he hands kept rubbing on me as he kissed me on the neck. He even began rubbing himself against my leg. This could have gone on longer if he hadn’t heard the front door opening from down the hall. I woke up feeling sick the next morning from last night’s drink. Though I wasn’t as bad off as Chris. He spent the whole night hiding under my futon.
Over the years, Chris keeps trying to touch me on my breasts and down there. He tries to chase off any guys that have an interest in me. He even took some pictures of me in my underwear and swimsuit one time. He told me it was for his photography class. I can’t understand why he likes me so much. I don’t really like what he does to me, but he is the only one in the family that doesn’t try to baby me. No, he treats me like a grown-up and gets me nice gifts. He even bought me Sydney four years ago at the state fair. The rest of the family knows about what he does to me. Couple that with his drinking problem, he is automatically hated. My cousins treat him rather badly by talking down to him, bullying him around, and calling him harsh names. Lucas and Isaac beat him up every time I let it slip about the latest thing he did to me. Chris is one of the main reasons the D.L. and Courtney fight. D.L. keeps telling her to do something about Chris.
“He’s a sick boy,” he tells her. “He needs help.” At one point, D.L. told her that it was either going to be him or Chris who was going to leave. Courtney took that as “send Chris back to Texas.” Naturally, she got upset and threatened to leave D.L. He had to explain that he meant get Chris into some psychiatric care.
I think he’s just misunderstood. Chris had it rough growing up. Courtney had him when she was fifteen years old. Shortly after he was born, Chris was taken to live with his maternal great grandparents in Corpus Christi, Texas. Now, I don’t know the full story, but something happened to him there that damaged him forever. He is part-deaf in his left ear after his grandfather hit him with a Bible. Social services brought him to us when he was only thirteen, days before he first touched me. I tried to ask Courtney why he was like this, but even she doesn’t know. Courtney doesn’t seem to know what to do with her son because she doesn’t have the full story of what happened to him over those thirteen years in Texas. She doesn’t even know who Chris’ father is. Because all of the damage, her son drinks and turns to me for “comfort.” I want to help him.
The bus finally pulled up at the stop just in front of my neighborhood. I reached into my purse for my wallet. I fumbled with the coins for a few seconds before I paid for my fare. I swayed off the bus and began the walk home. I still think those old ladies were staring at me the whole time.
I happened to look up in my unusually quiet neighborhood and see white sheets and an equally white sundress hanging on a line, flapping in the wind like flags of surrender. My pain-filled eyes shot wide open. Oh shit! That must mean it’s wash day today. If D.L. washes my dress and smell the rotten apples on it, he’ll know that I was up to no good last. No, I have to get rid of the evidence before he washes it.
The birds in the trees mocked me as I kept walking. At least, I had a better balance now. I wish I knew what time it was. The good news is that my house is just a couple of blocks away. Maybe, I could start running home. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try. I get into a runners stance and counted down to three in my head. I began to take off in a sprint. No sooner did I do this, I ended up on my face.
“Ow,” I mumbled to myself as I sat up on the sidewalk. Okay, bad idea. Damn you pavement, you got me again! Why does gravity hate me this morning? I looked around for damages. I’m fine, my apple-scented dress is still good, Sydney and my purse are still good, and my shoes is still intact. I slowly pick myself up, brush myself off, and gather my things. I continue my journey home, walking this time.
I finally find myself standing in front of my house. This is it. The home stretch! I can feel myself smiling now. I just have to make it down the driveway and I am home free. But then, a soft click catches my ears. The smile began to draw away as I begin to realize my final step in this hungover obstacle course that I have been on all morning. You see, D.L. installed automatic sprinklers all over the lawn last summer. He set them to go off two times a day, one for the morning and one for high noon. To make matters worse, the water hits the feet and legs, leaving them covered in wet grass. That’s how Courtney and D.L. know how Chris has snuck out the night before. And sure enough, those evil little metal heads popped up from the ground. Oh shit! I have to act now or I’m busted for sure. I can’t really run that well, but I’ve got no choice now. Okay, I’m just going to go! I drew in a deep breath and raced all the way down the driveway to the front door.
I made a good start halfway through. But then, I tripped and tasted pavement again. Once again, gravity was laughing at me. I didn’t have time to curse that evil bastard. It was either get up and keep running or lie there for Courtney, Chris, and D.L. to find me. Guess what I chose?
I got up and kept running. I made it to the front door, panting. I could hear myself laughing. I made it! I made it! That should get an eight. I reached into my purse and pulled out my keys. I could feel myself grinning as I unlocked the door and went inside. All I have to do is dry off, change into my pajamas, get into the futon, and…
“Where have you been?” a deep voice whispered. I froze and looked up. A big, black man in jeans and t-shirt stared dead-on at me in the living room. He looked like an oak tree. This man could be stereotyped into the whole ex-con image with how big he was. However, next to Courtney, he’s just a giant teddy bear. Not true at this very moment. He stood almost a few inches from me. I think my soul just left my body.
“D.L.!” I gasped. My cousin’s husband took a step closer and looked me up and down.
“What happened to you?” he asked as if we were in an interrogation room with him as the cop and I was the suspect in custody. “You snuck out last night, didn’t you?” Why bother lying? I look like a mini-whore soaking wet and cold, holding her purse and broken high-heels in her dried paint covered hands. Oh yeah, that screams, “I am innocent!”
“D.L., I can explain!” I pleaded. He held up his hand to stop me from digging that grave any deeper. I stood there with my mouth slightly open. He frowned and shook his head at me.
“Courtney is still asleep,” he said. “We will talk about this later. Right now, dry off and take a shower. I’ll get you something for your hangover.”
“But…” I tried to in vain to reason.
“Go!” he hissed. I nodded at him, sheepishly.
“Yes sir…” I whimpered in a small voice. I turned and walked down the hall. He’s just letting me heal up before the lecture begins. That is how D.L. is. His disappointment is the top of the iceberg. However, he is not really violent towards me and Courtney. He and Chris have only got into one physical fight that I know of. No, D.L. is usually not violent. He disciplines with disappointment that makes even the most sinful person guilty about their own actions. I know my punishment is coming up soon after I clean up.
I made it into the hall bathroom and set my things down on the toilet lid. I grabbed the nearest towel I could set my hands on and began drying my head.
Was it worth it, you idiot? Was it really worth it? Was it worth trying to be one of your grown-up cousins?
It was then I happened to look up at the clock-radio mounted above the light switch and caught what time it really was. 8:15. 8:15. It was only 8:15! My trip home felt like it took ages! I sank down onto the floor, chuckling to myself like a mad woman.
Let’s review: It’s 8:15 in the morning on a Saturday and Marla Carson is in the hall bathroom hung over, wearing a dress that smells like fermented apples, dried white paint on her hands, broken high-heel shoes, a big, fluffy towel draped over her head, soaking wet, and feet covered in wet, cut grass.