UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
MARGARET ELYSIA GARCIA
That fall, the earthquake changed things. She’d grown up right there in the midst of it: blinding sun against sidewalks,
She was underage and her grandmother took her uptown for margaritas on their lunch hours. They sat together and never talked about anything unpleasant. They talked about past vacations--camping trips and going to Disneyland whenever the New York relatives came out to visit. The future, according to her grandmother, was whatever made her happy; it was rosy and vague. She was grateful in particular for no prying, no mentioning, no interrogations. Could she borrow the car later and go to the Enchanted Herb and buy candles and stuff to do spells? Catch a martial arts flick at the Hadley and prop her feet up on the seat in front of her so that she didn’t disturb the path of the rats towards the spilled Cokes rows below her? Yes. Grandma always said yes.
By the time of the earthquake, people were already moving away from the brick and mortar buildings in the area and leaving the uptown for long strips of sameness along the boulevard. Still, it wasn’t until the mounds of rubble that took up so many corners were hauled away, leaving bombed-out empty, that the sadgirls and Mexi-goths and the white skater kids with bald heads and minute tufts of hair at the top, truly could descend and squat claim.
Maybe other kids found ways to entertain themselves in house parties with football players or making out down Turnbull Canyon road, hoping seriously and recklessly that rumored devil worshippers in the canyon would impound their mini-trucks and force them into mansions for random. There must have been dances to go to. Ice cream and pinball at Farrell’s Ice Cream at the Whitwood. A long family dinner at Clearman’s in red vinyl booths that stuck to fat thighs in summer. That was the stuff of kids with specific plans. Kids whose fathers made sure they had internships in the summer.
Sadgirls in general and this particular sadgirl had tiny goals: make it to eighteen alive, not impregnated, and poised for junior college. There was a college in the town, but spots there were reserved for kids who couldn’t get into Bryn Mawr or DePauw. Kids from somewhere cold. Sadgirls were white. Sadgirls were Mexican. Sadgirls were half and half. Their commonality was the pale blue cry beneath their dark eyelinered eyes.
There was no meeting that took place. No decree. No certainty but the earthquake, which did its job of collapsing chimneys and getting the Midwesterners to pack up and leave. Sadgirl noticed the phenomenon. The uptown had once been inhabited by strollers, the Blue Chip Stamp office, and a dairy, but now it was just rubble. The skaters providing a soundtrack of scraping wheel on concrete, the occasional tumble, and sinister laughter.
At school she’d felt lonely. Unable to relate to basic phrases like "How are you?" and "Have a good one." But in the rubble and fallout of after the earthquake, she felt comforted. Alive. This was as close to a war zone as she could get and still have a warm, canopied bed at grandmother’s at night.
Sadgirls from everywhere in southeastern Los Angeles seemed to have found this ground zero of nothing to stalk and haunt. Perhaps there was some sort of sonic disturbance or frequency that only sadgirls could hear. They nodded silently to each other, admiring and coveting each others’ lunchbox purses and mod skirts and girlie barrettes. If they had been cars, the cops would have taken notice and set up roadblocks so that they couldn’t cruise up and down the street like they did. Sitting with a half-empty sketchbook, maybe they’d buy a slice of pizza and sit in the homeless park or the benches by the darkened entrance to the drugstore. By the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, there seemed to be perhaps seventy of them, almost taking shifts after school.
They talked little and kept it to nods or excuse me as they passed too closely in the thrift store dressing rooms.
Each business left in the uptown district seemed to have its own patron sadgirl that frequented his or her shop the most. That particular sadgirl’s zines were distributed there. If it was a thrift or vintage shop, that particular sadgirl had first dibs on the anything cool from the forties or fifties that was on its racks. The laws of this dynamic were not spoken, but felt. The world seemed to have a perfect symmetry to it.
Each zine, of course, spoke the voice of the sadgirl writing her unedited madness. In them they’d write about the boys who noticed them but went for girls that talked or girls whose eyes they could see. They’d write cryptically about their uncles, their mothers' boyfriends, their stepfathers and about no one believing them. They’d write about rain and cobblestone and moving to England to become Robert Smith’s one true love and bride. They’d write about how long you could get RIT dye to last and at what point of faded black green a dress or black shirt should be re-dyed black or thrown out. They’d listen to X and write poems in big longhand curls of script.
On weekends they’d convince older cousins to drive them to swap meets in Santa Ana, Orange and Long Beach to find typewriters and ribbon. They’d selectively take jobs or date Mexi-goth boys who worked at places with access to copiers. Mexi-goths are almost the male equivalent of a sadgirl. The same dark clothes, the same quiet cynicism, the same British music collection. The same longing to be in an Anne Rice novel. The same certainty that if they’d been born on the other side of Los Angeles, they’d all be famous by now.
Back at home, after a day of stalking the streets, the sadgirls set up their altars. La Virgen candles, tiny packets of tiny items from the herb shop. Frankincense and myrrh. White feathers for flight and purity. The names of boys they wanted scribbled on bay leaves and placed in the middle of their foreheads and then underneath red candles. They’d call their mothers and remind them that they were parents. They’d write letters to houses in other places where their fathers were kept with new bright and shiny families.
The ones with Spanish surnames would do their French homework. The white ones would do their Spanish homework. Their brothers and boys they hung out with---boys that read Oscar Wilde and had vases of lilies on their nightstands---would listen to Bauhaus and fill out their applications for University of California campuses far away.
Slowly the epicenter of sadgirl culture unraveled. Some sadgirls learned to speak. Some pushed out the excrement of bullshit of their fathers, uncles, stepfathers and the like and, lighter now from the weight diminished, wiped off the eyeliner and screamed. Some backpacked through Europe. Some went to colleges far, far away. Some learned Spanish and started talking to their Mexican grandparents and learned old stories of what their world was like before sidewalks, freeways and integration.
One sadgirl learned that her family’s homes had been taken consecutively by the 110, 60, 710, 5 freeways. Their family homesteads one by one becoming concrete grey. The centers of some sadgirls' universes are spread far and wide. There are no homes for them. They feel like they can drift in the air.
The uptown district was rebuilt and in the rebuilding took out the thrift stores and the vintage stores. After a while there was no parking. It was busy. The Mexi-goths had graduated, moved back and opened businesses: cigar bars, winebars and art galleries. The white grandparents said things like "I never go there anymore—it’s been taken over by Mexicans." The Mexican grandparents said the same thing. The sadgirls looked around and pronounced it a poor man’s Pasadena, the Beverly Hills of the East side. No longer a destination. Some sadgirls married their Mexi-goths. Some remained single. Some slept with other sadgirls. Some moved to Hollywood and Silverlake. Some left the state for New York or took the 5 north and headed to San Francisco. Others got lost in the woods.
When a sadgirl grows up and out she leaves traces. You can tell if you look closely. When the principal calls and says her child is anti-social she doesn’t take the kid to the shrink, she takes him out for ice cream. When her kids don’t want their hair combed she doesn’t make a big deal, she adds gel or mousse to it. When they take the Lord's name in vain, sadgirls explain that some people don’t like it when you say that name and they explain it’s this guy who did some pretty cool things that probably would never hang out with the people who get upset at his name being used.
Sadgirls drink too much wine too often but it doesn’t really seem to be a problem because they take jobs where this isn’t going to be an issue. They design websites. They make jewelry. They make dresses. They plant gardens. They open herb shops and sell saint candles to young girls carrying lunchbox purses that want to know how to cast a spell of safety around themselves. Sadgirls say fuck it, and start taking care of their parents in their old age though by all rights they should say fuck it and walk away.
A sadgirl is a sadgirl, even without an epicenter. They give birth to other sadgirls. Or they swear off having children altogether. They follow the earthquakes and decay. They purchase laptops and create blogs and take up false identities. They use black screens and white lettering. They can stalk in space. They can make their own clothes. They have left but come back and visit their grandmothers only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. They say please and thank you. They don’t know how to breathe in the polluted air of southeastern Los Angeles anymore. They are surprised by all the billboards in Spanish now and secretly smirk about it at the same time. They take their grandmothers out for dinner and drinks. They take up their high school reunions in dive bars with gay ex-lovers in town for the day.
When they go back to their northern California houses after a short visit to southeastern Los Angeles, they head north or south onto the 605 Freeway—it doesn’t really matter. No route is direct out of there. They get this funky feeling in their hearts, like they are leaving someplace that’s so much a part of them, but that they’ve never really known. They go numb as they drive. Like they need an earthquake to feel.
© 2004-2011 Underground Voices