"Two girls are starring at me from a high. They’ve already claimed the concrete stoop as their own. I’m not afraid of them and I don’t expect their kindness. I don’t expect anything. I don’t give a fuck. We are something similar tonight. We are broken."
For the first time in my life, I lived alone. Made ends meet by waitressing at a brewery. Later, I worked for a commercial music agency and eventually I fell in with a fledgling PR company, but nothing held my attention like my writing job for a music blog called Indie Shuffle. It opened the door for a form of creative expression that both helped others and myself. The job centered around music, which I needed like life blood, but highlighted my words, which had always been the most sacred aspect of my art.
What simply began an enjoyable past time continues to be the one place I'm safe to call home, a place to share my words, through music, with thousands of people all over the world.
Blogging opened the door to more connections, more artists discovering my own music with a mutual admiration. One such artist was Henrique Oliveira. He was Brazilian and went by the artist name HNQO. Henrique and I just “clicked” and we created a few tunes together. He wrote house, deep house, and I added the vocal over it. Our first tracks hit tens of thousands of ears. Every track we made together got signed to prominent techno labels located in the UK. Because of Henrique, for the first time in my life I was getting paid for musical creations, sometimes well over $1,000 per track. After years of never getting paid, I felt I’d hit the jack pot.
Without trying, wanting or wishing, more vocal requests came in. For as much as I had hoped to quit the industry, I was surprised to find this new facet of the industry that had yet to quit me.
For as many tracks as I worked on or demoed, less than half would ever see the light of day. The ones that did, I was extremely proud of. Before I knew it, I had an arsenal of original electronic tunes which boosted my confidence and reignited that devilish ego. I wanted back on the stage, to capitalize on the attention I was receiving with these house tracks. DJing seemed the most obvious choice.
I purchased a scratched up set of Pioneer CDJ 200s (case and mixer included) for $600 from a lady who used to run a hip hop bar. It burned down, she told me, so she opened a cake shop instead.
All white, sweet smelling and new, this is where I met her to buy the goods- a giant black case that weighed a ton.
After cleaning years of spilled drinks and smoke residue off the compact machines, I set them up in my tiny one bedroom apartment. Despite the paper-thin walls and angry neighbors, throughout the winter of 2012 I practiced every day, sometimes twice a day. Any night was a good night if it started first with DJing.
Along with my original tracks, my work at Indie Shuffle gained me access to the greatest selection of electronic music on the market. My routine was to crack a beer, practice for an hour or so and once I was feeling fancy, I’d head out for the night to find my kicks. House music made me feel beautiful and when I felt beautiful I was on top of the world. It was 2004 all over again, meaning I was blindly confident, only this time I was older, keen to what I was getting myself into and therefore, more potent.
When my skills rose from bad to passable I set out offering my services to local bars. Little did I know how fast the gig would stick. My network expanded. With exposure came new friends, friends that boxed me in and knew only half-truths; the “electronic girl”, they called me. I’d succeeded in creating a niche and however burdened I may have felt with this one dimensional persona, I was getting paid more than I ever had with my acoustic music- a medium of $150 an hour. In a most ridiculous night, I earned $400 for less than 20 minutes of effort behind the decks.
Brazenly, I accepted this money, the free drinks, the fast times, because it was fun and easy. Bitterly, I swallowed this lesson. People didn’t want to think and feel, they didn’t want my lyrically driven, heart wrenching acoustic tunes, they just wanted to have fun. Bars needed to make money and story-telling didn’t sell drinks. Besides, after gaining notoriety in the dance community there weren’t many interested in my tear-jerk tunes and those that were, those that had followed me in the past, weren’t altogether enthused by the way my art had matured.
Nothing made sense in my career. It never had. The range of my style was all over the map and not I, nor anyone I’d ever met had the wherewithal to round me in.
Beating myself up at every turn, I considered it weakness that I couldn't quit and weakness that I couldn't proceed in the ways I knew I needed to if I were ever to get there. There took so much out of me. To get up on stage and perform was a soft form of necessary torture. I needed to, I hated to, I wanted to, I despised and loved every minute. I wondered if late nights at shady clubs were worth all the stress. It was a pace I knew I couldn't maintain and sure as human nature I began closing in on myself, going out less, gigging less, curling up like that same little pill bug I'd been in the past.
Musical purgatory, shifting paradigms, this is where I lingered.
This is where I found myself when I wrote a track with HNQO called “Obsessed” about a boy I’d met in a club not a few months earlier, Miguel… yeah, that guy. Fired him a few weeks after I hired him as a writer. He wrote well, but no one read it, not enough to warrant all the editing his articles required. More than that, it was all his emails; all the late night text messages when I was lying in bed with someone else; too much of him wanting my attention and I wasn’t cool with that. Fired him, told him to leave me alone.
And then I lost my job, a month or so later.
Not fired- laid off, but the effects were the same. I panicked, backed out of my apartment lease, went running into the arms of a willing ex who was more than happy to cradle my fears and wash away my sadness, meld it with his own. We did so with many late night parties accompanied by bands and people and music. So much music.
He owned a record shop in Hamtramck, a little magical hub for a shabby community of misfits to mingle, to feel not so broken. Lost things, that’s what found their way there.
He built a loft bed in the back of the shop amongst boxes and stacks of books. We showered in a large bin that we filled by slowly bowling water, one kettle load after another. And when that got tiring we used cold water, ice cold water. I lived this way with him for a month or two. He and I played shows, country music, and drank — a lot. I was happy to be free, but I was bound by the burden of life, money issues that I wasn’t addressing. It weighed heavy on my conscious and so that night when the Detroit Vinyl and Soul party stretched into the wee hours, when his motor cycle family popped in to fuel us with more booze, when I was already too far gone but decided to take shot after shot with his mom, of all people, I lost time. A lot of it.
I’m walking down alley ways, running through backyards that are not my own, moments later I’m crying in a corner, some corner. Some time later, I’m back at the shop and things are happy, all is good, until it’s not. Now we’re outside, I’m screaming and accusing. A crowd of people interjects. I yell something and spit somewhere, her face, some girl's face, and she slams my head as hard as she can into a brick wall. I’m smashing my cell phone and screaming. The cops show up and that’s all it takes. They let me linger, watch me while I drunkenly get in my car then pull me the fuck over after I roll 10 feet.
And that was it.
Life officially shattered.
From a cold jail cell, and not just an emotionally cold one but a freezing fucking cell, I sit on a gray floor calling after the guards for a blanket.
I am not allowed one, they tell me.
“Where your shoes?”
Two girls are starring at me from a high. They’ve already claimed the concrete stoop as their own. I’m not afraid of them and I don’t expect their kindness. I don’t expect anything. I don’t give a fuck. We are something similar tonight. We are broken.
“I don’t know. I think they took them,” I say.
I notice a metal toilet in the corner and I’ll use it later, shamelessly, but no one needs to be embarrassed at this point. We’ve already all hit the lowest of the low.
The girls watch me as I pretend to find comfort on the floor next to wads of long black hair and god knows what else. They watch me curl up in a fetal position and fade away.
In the morning, I’m calling collect over and over but the call never completes. I’m still drunk. I wreak so bad I can taste myself. I only remember one number. Home. Home… was supposed to be there in a few hours. It’s Mother’s Day.
“You getting out?” one of them asks me.
“I don’t know, I can’t reach anybody. You?”
“Been here since Thursday. If no one coming for you, ain’t none of us getting out here before the weekend.”
"Is that what they said?"
“That’s what they told us. Court don’t process shit on the weekends.”
Days. That’s all I keep thinking. She’s been in here for days. We’ll be in here for days more, three of us in a room no bigger than a closet. Holy hell.
An hour or two passes. The tears don’t come yet. Happiness finds me first.
I stand. Hands clutching a window of small bars.
"Your brother's here,” a guard says.
Holy hell's bells and thank the fucking good graces of heaven above,“My brother?” I ask, not believing.
“That's who he says he is. He has your stuff. You're free to go.”
Freedom has a new ring to it, it is the sound of keys clattering and mechanisms clicking and turning.
The door is heavy when it opens.
Barefoot, I step out.