Aja, 2004

Back in 2003, or thereabouts, I got a new neighbor in the apartment across the breezeway from me. Her name was Aja. I first met her when I was coming home from doing mid-days, and she was coming back from the swimming pool. Some women like to use cover-ups when they walk back from swimming, but not Aja. Good Lord, why would she? She had a flat tummy, long legs, large natural breasts, and a lovely face.

She was friendly, too. Every time I saw her, she said, “Hi, Tom,” and I  was somehow ensorcelled that she remembered my name. Many times, I saw her come back from the pool, all healthy pulchritude and youth.

And every time I wondered at the tattoos on her body. Covering her beautiful skin were tattoos that were violent, with sharp corners, horrible shapes, almost like she was punishing herself.

I know a lot of women with tattoos, and some of them are lovely–some truly beautiful. Sometimes it’s a lover’s name tattooed in a heart, or children’s names, or a Chinese symbol the tattooed woman thinks means “power,” but really means “common prostitute,” or “beef lo mein.” (nb: this really happens a lot, so be careful, kids)

But Aja’s tattoo’s reflected self-hatred to me, like she saw her beauty, and wanted it destroyed, wanted to disfigure herself.

Aja was a waitress at Applebee’s. I know this because I found one of those little book things they write your order in lying next to her car, wrapped in an Applebee’s apron. I knocked on her door, but there was no reply, so I just left it on her doorstep. I hope she didn’t get into trouble.

In 2004, I was involved in a heavy program of drinking bourbon. I was working nights, seven till midnight, and as soon as I got off work, I was off to the liquor store. I tried to drink Evan Williams as much as possible, but when my funds were low, so went my taste. If I got a bonus? Hooray! Barrel proof hand-crafted! But Evan Williams was my go-to, because it was good-enough, and it didn’t cost that much.

Once I got home, I’d log on to the computer, and write my best friend a letter. I’d write on the same letter for months. One he got was 110 pages long. He swears he read it all. (If so? Dude, I apologize.)

After I became too drunk to type anymore, and Van Morrison’s “A Night in San Francisco” had finished for the night, I’d turn on MY guitar. I had a 1950’s remake Fender Stratocaster, that I ultimately had to pawn to pay rent or buy more bourbon, one. I also had a little ten-watt practice amp. So what I’d do is play a bunch of rock music with one cup of my Sony MDR-7506 headphones over my right ear, and listen–fairly loudly–to the music coming out of my amp. I was okay–neither great nor bad–but I could get crunchy metal out of that amp, or the warmest tones you’d ever want to hear.

The bottom line is that I was essentially immune to any outside noise, and God help my neighbors, who probably weren’t immune to mine.

One night, there was screaming outside my apartment. Screaming and pounding on a door. A door across the breezeway from me.

The pounding was Aja’s boyfriend. They were fighting constantly, and moving toward an ugly breakup.

Aja was a club kid. I saw her plenty of nights going out in dresses so cut-out, that they were almost fishnet. She’d be drunk and on high–really high–heels. She’d be going out at half past midnight after her shift to get wasted, and I’d be coming  home at half past ready to get wasted myself. Different techniques, granted, but we both got our buzzes working.

Aja and her boyfriend apparently had a huge fight one night. She was already wasted–not just on alcohol: she dabbled in other things as well. Aja finally told him that she was just sick of everything, and she was going to end it. The boyfriend sped over, and reached for the key Aja always kept hidden atop the door-frame molding.

The key was gone. The boyfriend was scared shitless, and started pounding on the door, screaming her name, trying to get her to open the door. The boyfriend called the apartment complex’s emergency number to get a key, but nobody would be able to help him till 8:30 when the office opened. The office opened. The community director drove the hysterical boyfriend–who expected the worst–to Aja’s apartment, and let him in.

It was the worst.

Aja had OD’d on heroin. She was cold, dead, right on the living-room carpet, one of her club outfits on, her phone turned off.

I never blamed myself. These apartments had really sturdy doors, and there’s no way even my Hagridian bulk could’ve crashed through the deadbolt.

But I never heard the boyfriend screaming. If Aja was at that point, and she needed someone to talk to, I couldn’t have heard her knocking. I was living what I called my life back then.

For those of us whose control of grain-based liquid substances gets out of hand (*raises hand*) there are special 28-day “resorts”;-) you can stay in, and when you come out, you will have stopped using those grain-based liquid substances. The trick is to continue to avoid using them, lest ye be back where ye were, which–for me–was the corner of Soulless and Nowhere.

Once you leave the special resort, there’s a secret club full of other people trying to avoid various toxins. For the first five years after I left the “resort” ;-), I went to the secret club regularly. Then I changed jobs, and I stopped going. I’ve been fine, with no urge for grain-based liquid substances for the nine years I’ve been clean. Recently, I started going to meetings again, just to get out of the house and be around interesting–and sometimes frightening–people.

I had a shite day today. I went to the doctor, where I had to wait an hour and fifteen minutes beyond my scheduled 10:30 appointment. Then I had to go back at 3:00 for Physical Therapy, which leaves me sore, but not in pain. But with the broiling heat and the stress….No way I was going out again.

I went out again. This meeting is a meditation meeting, where we read the St. Frances Prayer, and meditate on one of it’s positive affirmations–“where there is darkness, let me bring light,” e.g.–and there’s usually a small crowd, and it is nice to direct the meditation, and the room was silent. We’re supposed to meditate on the obvious things.

All I could picture in my mind’s eye was that beautiful, healthy girl walking up those stairs, looking like perfect nineteen-year-olds do. I wonder where she is today? A Heaven? A Hell? Reincarnated? Energy spread back into the Universe? Part of all of us somehow?

I’ll never know.

Aja might have been a sculptor’s wet dream on the outside (except for the tats), but she was a psychiatrist’s nightmare on the inside. I don’t know why I couldn’t stop thinking about her today during meditation. Maybe it’s because she’s from such a lifetime ago–most of my adult life, anyway–and it was her turn to flash on my mind’s eye so brightly,that I had to remember her, to lament her, to wonder what she’d be now at thirty-three. Married with kids? A junkie on the streets? Someone who cleaned herself up, took classes, and became a teacher?

It’s funny, I had friends in grade school I remember for a brief flash, then they’re gone to that “former acquaintance shred file” we all have.

Aja took her time, but when she came back to my mind, it was a Babe Ruth-esque swat. I always loved her as one loves ones cool neighbors–in a non-gross way–and I was sad that she took this way out. My life went on apace, and I continued to drink myself inflammable.

After my stay in the “resort” ;-), I found a group that I really liked. They met at seven in the morning. This sucked ass for me, because of my schedule, but it was worth it.

A nice couple moved into Aja’s former apartment–Ryan and Collete, and don’t ask me how I remember their names because I don’t know. Sometimes, I’d be sitting in the Nimitz, trying to convince myself to go to this meeting, when Collete would pull up in her car. We’d chat till I had to go. She was a sweetheart. One early morning, she asked me about the people who lived there before.

I think I looked away from Collete’s green eyes and said simply, “She was a beautiful girl, but I never really knew her.”

 

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9 Responses to “Aja, 2004”

  1. Maybe Aja was reaching out to you at that moment, just to let you know everything is okay.

    Seriously, I think the Universe is mostly a big crap shoot and what happens to us is mostly hit or miss, a stroke of luck or bad, as chance may have it. Then again we run across people who somehow leave a small dent in us—crossing the streams, touching energies, whatever. I can’t say what effect you might have had on Aja, but maybe somewhere out there, she thinks once in awhile about you.

    Sad post, but well written. I’m going to think about this one for a good while.

    • Thank you. It wasn’t my best meditation, but my mind was relatively clear. Maybe I saw some girl that subconsciously reminded me of Aja, and that triggered it, or maybe she got jealous. 😉

      I knew I was waaaaaaaaay too old for her when one her tats said “Aja.” “Beautiful name! There was an album called Aja.” Yeaa. My mom loved it in Middle School. Yup. Too old. yeah.

      • Ouch! One of my favorite albums—when I was an undergrad in college. It makes me cringe when some punk kid says “Steely Dan? What’s that?” They don’t even get the Naked Lunch reference.

  2. Yes, indeed. Very thought provoking. I’m with HG on the universe being a crap shoot.

    But, I feel…in a good way. What is going to happen, happens and it’s not something to be afraid of, it’s just something to “go with”.

    I like thinking that Aja’s energy reached out and touched you.

    We never really know how we are affecting someone when we just pass by with a smile and a “hello”.

  3. I often think this is what pastors are trying to tell us when they prattle on at funerals about how the loved one never dies as long as the people who loved them remember them. It’s meant to be uplifting, but its strange reality is that we carry ghosts in our hearts, but sometimes, sometimes, they are kind ghosts who help us remember what we’re supposed to be doing to live our lives. Aja died a sad death, but she’s there to remind you to stay away from the ledge.

    • One eerie thing as I get older (I’m well into my continuing decades of being 29), is that I lose people’s voices. I can remember their faces, but I can’t remember their voices. It’s not just from photographs, either. I can imagine somebody’s walk or physical tics, but their voices fade out as if echoes from a room they just left.

      With Aja, I can’t remember her face, just that she had green eyes and was pretty. The rest, Is vague, though perversely clearer. Even when she was still living there I couldn’t have picked her voice out of a lineup.

      I can’t remember my grandparents’ voices, nor–to be honest–that of many living relatives. (I’m a good one for not giving a shit–not one of my more admirable traits.)

      Maybe Aja just popped in to remind me of her life and death. Maybe, too, my monkeyesque brain roulette wheel just had the marble land in her number yesterday.

      Of the two, i prefer the former.

      • It’s strange, I never have thought about remembering voices. It’s just something that has never entered my mind. Until now. So….thanks. Something else to think about! 😉

  4. Tragic and strangely beautiful story, Tom. So many people impact our lives that probably have little idea of it. And yet, in this case, what could have been done — by you, by the boyfriend? You get the sense her life was going to play out tragically one way or another.

    • Thanks, Steve. And I agree–it’s like she was a time-bomb. One of the hardest lessons to learn as we age is that we can’t save everyone. Some people are past the point. Others just don’t want to be saved. Aja…I can’t even imagine what happened to her before I knew her–I didn’t know her well enough for that conjecture. All I could see in her is what she was like at 19, and lament that she took that way out.

      And you’re right: she probably had no idea the guy across the hall would still be thinking of her ten years later, that I have beaten back my addictions, and that I’ve found some semblance of peace. Maybe she could have, too.

      What made me write this was thinking that she knows what’s on the other side. I can only wonder, but I’m in no hurry to find out.

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