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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Everyday Is Downhill From Here


I had no idea where Mississippi was or what to expect.  I was 21 years old, and I seldom left the Bronx.

I didn't pack up my folding chairs and move to Biloxi because I thought it was a good idea, you know.  I cut out because I was scared shitless.  Once I had my own apartment, I found myself spending time with all sorts of questionable people.  I made the mistake of inviting them over, and they kept coming by.  Getting too close and staying too long.  I didn't know how to make them go away.  So I just left.

Jason was my boyfriend, and he had gone and embarked on a new adventure in the Air Force.  I don't think I was jealous, but I did feel like we should be together.  I don't recall him ever asking me to come.  I do remember me begging, though. Pleading.  And as luck would have it, he was homesick and lonely down south.  So he said okay.

I guess in the back of my mind, I hoped that leaving would get my mother's attention, as well.  If I had half a brain, I would've realized how stupid it was to think that way.  There wasn't a whole lot she could do about my lack of direction once I was gone.  She hardly ever left the Bronx either.
Jason rented us a half trailer in a mobile home park just outside Keesler Air Force Base.  Every morning, he rode his bicycle to some place where they taught him how to fix airplanes, and he was gone until evening.

Life in the trailer park was quiet during the day, except for the sound of air conditioners and the occasional crying child.  The temperature soared to a thousand degrees most afternoons.  Many of the young women who lived there had children they wanted to keep alive, so everybody stayed inside until the sun went down.

One night shortly after we moved in, a young man knocked on the side of our house.  We had few visitors.  He may very well have been the first one.

"You folks got a blow drying machine?" he asked.  "My girl's right in the middle of fixin' her hair, and ours up and died."

I thought this was a strange question, considering Jason and I both shaved our heads and had very little hair to speak of.

"Sorry, no," I told him.

I saw the same guy the following evening, tying a baby walker to the rear view mirror of his car with an extension cord.  He plopped a small child into the seat.  She toddled back and forth, while he practiced cracking a bullwhip against a tree.

"Howdy, neighbor."  He called to me and waved.

"Hi," I replied.  I went inside and locked the door.

I only met his wife one time.  She held a bag of ice to her eye as she stood on our cinderblock steps in the rain.

"You okay?" I asked.

"I suppose," she muttered.  "I'm just having some problems is all."

She asked if she could borrow some money.  I only had six dollars in the house.  I gave her five.  I never saw her or the baby again.

*******

I thought I could get a job as a secretary somewhere, but there wasn't a whole lot of business happening in our neck of the woods.  And by the looks of things in and around town, they didn't need much typing done.  We had a laundromat and a sandwich shop, where they also sold bait and cigarettes.  The folks who worked in these establishments looked like the walls were built around them when they were just children.  Before windows and the labor laws that protect children were invented.

I passed an employment agency on the way to the supermarket one day.  I went in and asked about work.  I filled out an application and handed the woman in charge a copy of my resumé.

"You ain't gonna need that," she told me.  "Alls we got here is housekeeping shifts at the Quality Inn.  Have you ever done any cleanin' before?"

"No."

"Well, you strike me as a fast learner.  And you look strong, so that's good.  The girls down there can teach you whatever it is that needs din'."

"Okay," I said.

"Can you start tomorrow?"

"Sure."

She gave me a folder stuffed with brochures and a little introduction card with the name and address of the place scribbled on it.  I headed back to the house and shared the news with Jason.

"I got a job," I told him.

"Where?"

"Some motel in Gulfport."  I handed him the paperwork.

"Mary, this place is thirteen miles away.  How're you gonna get there?"

"The lady I spoke to said there's a bus."

"What bus?"

"I don't know."

Early the next morning, I made my way down to Highway 49 and started walking along the service road parallel to the interstate.  I was roughly four miles into my journey when I came across that first bus stop.  I waited there for what seemed like forever, watching the sun crawl wearily into the sky.  I panicked and set out walking some more.

By the time I boarded the bus, I was in a pool of sweat.  When I finally arrived at my destination, I felt like throwing myself on every single one of those beds they needed help making.

My domestic colleagues did not embrace me as one of their own.  They had hard lives and big problems.  Loose teeth, mean partners and too many mouths to feed on $3.35 an hour.  None of them cared how fast I could type or what fun I was at parties.  They had shit-filled toilets to clean, bloody sheets to strip and soak in bleach.  Mirrors and bathtubs that looked like who did it and ran.

Sometimes, guests left food and drinks behind in the mini-fridge.  These items were divvied up among the team members assigned to each room.  Liquor and beer were always hot commodities.  But mostly, it was just salad dressing and hot sauce. I found a big video camera hanging off a doorknob once and turned it in at the front desk.  I didn't make any friends that day.

I never did figure out the bus schedule. I had gotten into a habit of accepting rides along the highway in the mornings.  Men in trucks on their way to all sorts of jobs up and down the coast.  Most of them were very nice.

But I did take a lift from this creepy dude who pulled his vehicle in behind the gas station and suggested we smoke a joint before he dropped me off.  He got his hands up my shirt so fast, I found myself clawing at the passenger side door like I was in a scary movie.  I ran across three parking lots and heard him laughing as he sped past.

That was the first time I'd ever been called a cunt.  It's not that big a deal, I guess. I haven't thought about that guy in years.  He's probably dead now.  Or really sick.

Needless to say, my career in the hotel industry was short-lived.

*******

Jason found out that he could get extra money every paycheck if he had a wife. Military cash benefits generally include the commissary and exchange, plus there's a stipend toward living expenses and health insurance.  It seemed too good to be true.  More money sounded like an awesome idea.  Besides, we loved each other.  So we got married.

*******

I bumped into Mr. Obert one afternoon.  He was the gentleman who owned and ran the park where we lived.  While he tinkered with a broken air conditioner on his back porch, he asked me if I had any interest in cleaning out one of the trailers that had recently been vacated.  He said he'd pay me twenty dollars.  How bad could it be?

Actually, it was pretty gross.  People can be pigs.  But I liked how much better things looked when I was finished scraping food off the stovetop and mopping out the bathroom.  I guess I did a pretty good job.  I scoured quite a few units after that.

Sometimes, folks took off in the middle of the night.  They left their clothes and shoes behind in the closet.  It made me feel awful to see deserted baby things.  I thought about all the interrupted lives.  It didn't look like they had any big plans in place.  Neither did I.  I came across some marijuana once and brought it home to Jason.

"I can't do that anymore," he said.  "I'll get in trouble."

He looked sad, and I felt even sadder.  I waited until he left for work and strolled across the street to the bait counter.  I bought some rolling papers and smoked that weed all by myself.  I spent hours petting Waffles, the little cat I'd brought with me from New York.  She hated the plane ride.  Good thing I had a little Seconal.  We both took some.

Another time, I found a huge plastic bag of blue pills stuffed in a drawer filled with abandoned pants and shirts.  They had little v's carved into the tops of them.  I kept my discovery a secret and began turning to them in the evenings while I made dinner.  I liked mixing them with beer and wine coolers.

Jason and I ate hot dogs and rice.  We sat on the edge of the bed watching MTV. Those little pills helped me relax into a relationship with my new husband. Everything was excellent until the bag was empty.

Shortly thereafter, I suspected I was pregnant.

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