(I wrote this on a plane yesterday, flying over the middle of America. This is the first of a series. There will be some explicit language. Note that the story is likely 3/4 true. It's not exactly timely other than that my personal statute of limitations has finally expired)
Lauren was screaming at the girl at the Sizzler cash register. The cashier, younger than Lauren, as small as Lauren, appeared to be on the verge of tears. It was a Sunday. We were coming back from the beach. We were in Fullerton, on Yorba Linda Blvd., just east of the freeway.
After Lauren finished screaming, we took our trays and our ugly food to our as-yet-unchosen table. I took a sip of Pepsi and stared Lauren down. I had no words.
She answered me anyway. "I didn't like her attitude. Just because your card was declined."
I appreciated Lauren's loyalty. But she neglected to consider that the credit card was declined because she owed me money and I was poor. I ended up using my other card, the one with 12 dollars available credit. It worked. Besides, the cashier didn't really have that much of an attitude; Lauren imagined it. I told her this. She got really mad. I was 26. Lauren was 20. I got up, walked away.
I stood for a minute just past the cash register, waiting for the girl to complete the sale - two sirloin dinners with salad bars and sodas, two senior discounts.
"I want to apologize. For her behavior." Yeah, I was a bit of a bastard. What kind of boyfriend was I? Honor over love!?
The girl looked surprised. Not only for my apology, a gesture she clearly understood (Lauren did call her a "Mexican cunt" after all.) No, the girl - her name tag said Grace, that I remember - was surprised I would apologize with Lauren - that spritely little half-goth - sitting 30 feet away, watching us without hearing. Grace said "Thank you" with a look that carried what passed for compassion and sympathy in early Clinton-era Orange County.
Neither of us lived in Fullerton. I had left Brea four years earlier. We were on our way back from Dana Point. I swam in the ocean. Lauren swam a little too but mostly sunscreened and umbrellad her pale soul into winter in July.
We would break up for good in September. We would both move, separately, to New England two summers later and then, separately, to Minnesota (me after 12 days in Amherst, Lauren after 12 months in Greenwich). Some time around 2000, I lost track of her.
I've created a few possible/plausible life outcomes for Lauren: uncertified massage therapist in Honolulu; shadowy operative in Atlanta; dead on a hill at Forest Lawn in Glendale; right behind me as I walk down Exposition Boulevard, back to my car after a day's work; eating one last time at that Yorba Linda Blvd. Sizzler, waiting for the sun to set so she drive west without distraction; or, and this is the most likely of the outcomes though none of them really stands much of a chance, living with her husband and a dog named Bauhaus in Dublin, California, first child on the way.
Her harsh words notwithstanding, I have to admire Lauren's defense of me. Growing up in a matriarchy marked my harsh criticisms (tough love? nah), there's something to be said for blind female loyalty, even if Lauren didn't believe in working for a living, wouldn't eat dinner before midnight, and refused to listen to any of the music I liked except for that one Matthew Sweet album.
Once, when I talked myself into there still being hope for Lauren and me, we went to the Glendale Galleria. She loved that godawful mall. She bought a black and white striped dress at Express, a store whose clientele she specifically hated but whose clothes she mercilessly purchased with her allowance (really). The dress was wintery for Los Angeles, thin but woolen.
The next weekend, we were going to Diamond Bar for dinner with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. They hated Lauren. Even the little one - four years old at the time - was likely programmed to look askance at her uneven unexplainable ways. I picked her up in front of her dead-end street apartment building in Highland Park, down the street from the drug playground. She had cut the sleeves of the dress, leaving messy fringe and white-as-snow arms. It was cold and cloudy that day; she didn't care. No jacket. She was punk that day (not every day though - she loved Too Close For Comfort.)
When I saw the cut-off dress, I thought "God, my sister will hate that dress ten times more than she would have with sleeves." And from the look on her face and, by default, her husband's face and her child's face, the contempt for Lauren was everywhere that Sunday afternoon. Which made dinner at that white carpet condo, the place I last saw my dad alive two years later, ten times as tolerable.
We broke up over the phone while I was in Denver for work. I specifically remember that the room service menu looked as if it was written in the 1920s and only updated sporadically with new prices over the whited-out old ones. There was food I had never heard of, meats from animals likely extinct.