An explosive end to a budding relationship left more than my emotions shattered.
When the dust settled from my breakup with Ben, I made my way across town and moved into the smallest bedroom in Candy and Tina's three bedroom apartment in North Hollywood. Candy and Tina were a couple of more experienced tour guides I met working at Universal Studios. Funny, isn't it? It was Ben who circled that ad in the LA Times and left it on the breakfast table for me. He thought I might like the change of scenery.
Candy and Tina's place—our place—was in an ugly two story stucco building in a neighborhood that was borderline sketchy. I didn't care. After being with Ben for seven years I was finally free. I didn't care that my room faced the front and that I could hear the security gate rattle and clatter open and shut every time someone drove in and out of the driveway. I didn't care that there was a trashy looking house across the street that had all the stereotypical signs of being a meth lab—the snatches of unsavory types skulking in and out post midnight, the wreck of a yard, brown and weedy, the shit-box of a house with ripped screens and old sheets hung up in the windows instead of curtains—I kept my own curtains closed and never walked anywhere.
On the plus side; the place was cheap, close to work, there was the semblance of a security gate, a small kidney bean of a pool in the back where I could work on my tan and, the biggest plus, I had my own room and privacy. Something I craved more than company.
Trying to make the bedroom feel more like a sitting room, I bought a convertible sofa instead of a bed. Ben had kept ours, a king sized bed that there wasn't room for and which I didn't want. The furniture arrangement—I'd painstakingly drawn tiny pictures of my few pieces of furniture and cut them out, mapping the plan on graph paper—left me enough floor space in my new room to work out to my Jane Fonda tape in front of the wall-to-wall mirrored closet sliders. With my white cotton duck-covered couch, a bookcase running along one wall, a bright, beachy striped cotton rug to camouflage the basic apartment Cheap-O-Shag and a matching pair of white ginger jar lamps on a couple of mismatched end tables, my retreat made for a super cozy hide-out. While I loved the way Candy sang out "Simba the white lion" every time she saw me, and Tina with her snarky send ups of fellow guides made me laugh, I tended to withdraw into my room when they had friends over. Embarrassed, at my age, to be someone's roommate again. I felt like I had a giant letter on my chest, not a scarlet letter, just a big, black, gloomy F, marking my dismally low success rate on the relationship scale. Trying to figure out my next move, I focused on a job designed for college students, read Jane Austen and listened to music. The men in my life that summer were Marshall Crenshaw, Elton John, Jean Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling. They were enough.
At work, Universal made an effort to have us believe that we were valued performers, actors even, rather than underpaid dreamers giving several tours a day for little more than minimum pay. In the late 80's, there weren't monitors mounted in the trams with video clips available at the push of a button to do our talking for us. We really had to work it. Sitting at the front of the tram facing the guests and sweating in our polyester pants and candy-stripe red and white blouses, we went blah, blah, blah into the mike for two hours at a stretch as our trams meandered through the Universal back lot.
On hot summer days when the pace of the tourists who wanted to take the tour outdid the ability of the park to handle the volume, we had to stall. Stalling sucked. It meant keeping up the patter no matter what, even when the tram was stuck in the searing mid-afternoon heat of a July day behind a three-deep line of other trams all waiting to go through King Kong, Jaws, the parting of the Red Sea or the collapsing of the old broken down bridge. The drivers loved it. Break time. Some of the drivers, the younger ones like Scott, really got a kick out of those stalls. Settling back in his seat, shifting sideways so he was looking at me, Scott would smile and snicker softly while I sat sweating from the polyester and the pressure, talking non-stop while simultaneously trying to peel off the wet strings of hair clinging attractively to the back of my neck.
Those were the sticky-hot days of summer.
They got stickier, in a way, when Scott moved into our building. Whenever the building had a vacancy there was always a rush to refer someone from Universal to keep the Gilmore street building in the unofficial family. The first time I saw Scott in something other than his Universal teamster uniform—black pants and a short sleeved red shirt that seemed barely able to contain his muscles from bursting free —was when I ran into him at the mailbox in our building. Hey, I worked out to my Jane Fonda tape, I wanted the 80's hardbody as much as anybody, but Scott? I had a feeling that's all he did. Like he was standing there holding the mailbox key secretly flexing. The uniform he wore now—your basic t-shirt and jeans—did little to hide his inner body builder either. Thirty-something, light auburn hair, neatly trimmed beard, and almost a foot taller than me, Scott could have been en route to an audition for a part in some Viking movie. Or maybe just the gym.
"Hey you!" When he smiled, his whole face smiled. "I heard you lived here. I was just gonna grab some dinner. You want to join me?"
I contemplated the potato I was going to microwave for dinner, the third of a cup of cottage cheese I was going to dollop on top. And couldn't help thinking that Scott—still smiling—was as far away from my 50 year old ex-boyfriend with his closet full of custom suits as I could imagine.
"That'd be great," I beamed back. "Thanks!"
We took his truck to a place on Moorpark, a bar really, with strings of tacky plastic beer banners draped across the room, as limp and listless in the sticky-hot summer heat as I felt.
Scott pulled out a bar stool from one of the high pub tables; "A couple of margies" he told the waitress, "and an order of them nachos to start."
"Those nachos" I screamed on the inside.
He was a nice guy, and I liked how he talked about his family up north. He said he was saving up to buy a sweet little piece of property back home; he was planning on building his own house on it.
Shitty little snob that I am, I already knew I couldn't look past the grammatical slip or the way he held his fork, but after dinner I heard myself say yes to a nightcap at his place. I figured he'd have a Bowflex in the living room, or at least weights lined up on the floor but Scott's apartment was bachelor bare, black leather-look couch, a Lazy Boy recliner, TV. I couldn't help noticing there wasn't a book in sight unless you counted the TV Guide set neatly on the coffee table. He told me he'd made the table himself.
"It's beautiful!" I ran my hand across the oak surface, impressed with his skill. "You really made that yourself?"
I should have just gone home. Instead we sat on his couch, drinking margaritas and when neither one of us could find anything else to say about the table, Scott wondered maybe did I want to see his gun?
He had a gun?
The only guns I'd ever seen were in the movies and on TV. When I was growing up my liberal parents wouldn't have dreamt of having a weapon in the house; it was unthinkable. Criminal. The idea that my new neighbor could go to his bedroom and come back with a gun, felt vaguely wrong, wicked. A shiver of a thrill ran up my spine.
He brought it out, the gun held lightly in his open hands. Did I want to hold it?
"It's not loaded, right?"
Scott laughed, shook his head. "How dumb do you think I am?"
I felt horrible; that creepy critic inside me had slipped out and he'd seen her. Standing there in plain sight.
Holding the gun with both hands, weightier than I'd imagined, I pointed it out in front of me, concentrating on keeping it level. Scott, taking the barrel gently between his fingers, moved it away from where I'd been pointing it, right at his chest.
I'd been so obsessed with that sleek black barrel, I was oblivious to what was at the other end of it.
"It's okay," he told me. "Just don't ever point a gun at someone. Ever. You know, unless you plan on using it."
"I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking." I felt my face go hot and red.
"Hey no, that's okay, it's fine." A gentleman, Scott tried to make me feel better. "Just don't aim it at me, okay?"
"But it's not loaded, right?"
Even though I knew the gun wasn't loaded I still wondered what it would feel like to shoot it. To pull the trigger; I knew I'd never get a second chance. 'D'you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?' Holding the gun in both hands, I raised it again. Arms locked, I held the gun straight out in front of me, and aimed it in the direction of the sliding glass patio door. I glanced at Scott.
"So if I was going to shoot it, this is where I'd put my finger?"
I tentatively touched the small piece curved like a letter C.
I slipped my finger into position and I pulled it back. It was only when I pulled the trigger all the way back that I knew that Scott was wrong. The gun was loaded. Had been loaded all along.
The bullet blasted through that sliding glass patio door with an instantaneous roar and a crashing sound as the glass cracked.
I was stunned. I sat on the couch, scared and confused, afraid to move the tiniest muscle until Scott took the gun out of my hands. I was terrified that one false motion would cause the gun to go off again. As if the weapon was possessed, acting on its own accord. As if I didn't have a thing to do with it.
I didn't crumple into tears; I just sat frozen in place, repeating 'oh God' over and over again. I thought it was empty. Scott had sworn it was empty. I liked to think of myself as a good person and now I'd almost killed a guy. Could I ever call myself a good person again?
"But you said it wasn't loaded," I mumbled my protest into my lap.
Scott said he was sure it had been empty. He really needed me to believe him, he would never be so careless with a gun. We could barely meet each others eyes. Because he had been careless. We had both been careless. Like the gun was a game, like truth or dare.
A few minutes later I said I was sorry and that I better go. Scott, still the gentleman, stood watching from the hallway, making sure, I guess, that I got home to my apartment two doors down, okay.
We avoided each other after that; if I was assigned a tour and saw he was the driver, I'd swap with another guide and take the next tram. I took the chicken's way out and slipped a note under his door, apologizing again for nearly killing him. As if that's something you can write in a note. I insisted on paying for a new sliding glass door. As if that could make it okay.
He came by the apartment to say he couldn't take my money.
"But I shot a hole through your patio door."
"But it was my gun, so no, I can't take your money."
Weeks went by. Scott and I didn't see each other again. His sliding glass door was replaced. No one came to arrest me for the careless handling of a deadly weapon. On the surface it was like it never happened. Just a bad dream. Sometimes late at night though, sleepless in the stifling heat of the San Fernando Valley, something nagging at me like the metal bar of the fold-out couch pressing into my back, I'd find myself listening for the sound of Scott's truck pulling into the drive. I'd hear the gentle rumble of the engine idling while the gate clattered open, the soft crunch of his tires on the tarmac, the rattle of the gate shutting safely behind him.
Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was that nagging something, but in those last sticky-hot nights of summer, only then could I finally fall asleep.