A Southern California Love Story

By Auriane de Rudder

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I left the party just as I became significantly drunk. I didn’t know the birthday girl well, although I managed to bring along a thoughtful gift—a small Mexican tile with an illustration of a bartender serving cocktails to a skeleton on it–that seemed to impress her. The bar was one I had frequented a number of times, typical for a dive in my neighborhood; red lighting, cheap booze, bad karaoke. I said my goodbyes to the other guests hastily, and stumbled onto the pavement, excited to drink the last of a remaining bottle of Rosé in my fridge. I pushed ill-fitting headphones into my ears, and played an online radio station of contemporary Pop music. I walked along to the upbeat music with intention—albeit a little crookedly– toward home.

The streets of Long Beach were quiet. It was a Sunday night, and few pedestrians lingered in front of the bars and bodegas that I passed on my way to my apartment. The air was cold, February’s Pacific breeze biting at my bits of exposed flesh. I pulled my heavy leather jacket around me, tighter, and knotted another knot into my scarf. I took a few steps forward, and I stopped to adjust my purse. That’s when I saw him. Julian.

He stood under a street lamp, illuminated in the buzzing yellow light, staring at me. At first, I didn’t know it was him. I prepared to avert my eyes from this stranger, ignore whatever passing comment he had for me, like I would with any other man on the street. But as he cleared his throat, my vision narrowed and I recognized him for what he was. My lover, or my ex-lover, if I could even call him that.

“Hi,” was all he said.

I’m sure I rambled on about something, I don’t remember. I was drunk, after all. I do remember that I agreed to let him walk me home, something I hadn’t allowed for months—months I had gone ignoring his calls, and avoiding seeing him at all—and that I took his hand in mind. Before we started to walk, I buried my face into his neck, inhaling the scent of his beard—he smelled like soap and nutmeg and pot. Then we were on our way.

As we walked, he did most of the talking. Knowing Julian, I’m sure that he was drunk, too, but I didn’t care about that. I listened as he tried on two pretty half-assed apologies. First, he was defensive, upset that I had ignored him for so long. When that approach didn’t win back my affection, he explained that he had made a mistake, and deserved to be forgiven. I had heard these selfish kinds of apologies from men before. As he spoke, I focused on placing one foot in front of the other and remained quiet.

When we arrived at my doorstep, he stopped apologizing, and stood, slumped, his pelvis slightly tilted toward me, his head hung low; a stance of defeat. He was almost like a dog, or some other sad animal the way he stood there. It was time for me to speak.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to forgive you,” I told him.

He stirred a little, and lifted his head, “Has this ever been about a good idea?” He asked.

“You left me there, Julian. You left me alone,” I looked down, determined not to show too much emotion. I was definitely not going to cry.

He started to speak again, defending his actions that night, months ago, but I had stopped listening. I turned on one heel, ready to walk away, but instead turned back and looked him in the eye.

“I woke up in a pool of blood, Julian. You left me there. In a fucking pool of blood,” I spat,

“That’s way too dramatic,” I said.

I turned my back to him, walked up the stairs to my building and turned the key. I pushed the door open and stepped inside. I didn’t look back or say another word. I locked the door and leaned against it for several seconds. I took a deep breath, and greeted the happy dog, wagging her tail at my feet.

“Hello good girl! Yes, baby, I just love you so,” I exclaimed, as I bowed to scratch behind her ears. “Do you wanna’ go potty?” I asked her, peeking through the blinds to see if Julian had gone. He had.

After the half-bottle of Rosé, I went to bed and pretended that Julian was holding me in his arms until I fell asleep.

The next few weeks were peppered with more Julian. He lived close to me, right around the corner, actually. This made him hard to avoid, if that’s what he wanted. When he didn’t want to be seen, he could quite easily disappear into the recesses of bars I didn’t frequent, but when he did want my attention, he only had to make himself visible—at our local coffee shop, along the stretch of grass where I walked the dog, or even right there on my doorstep—to be seen. It was unfair, the way he could pop back into my life without permission. This made him impossible to forget, and harder to get over.

One day, while walking the dog, I noticed a car, gliding slowly next to us as we walked. I didn’t recognize the vehicle as belonging to anyone I knew, and so I slowed to see the driver. The car pulled up alongside me, and stopped. The passenger window rolled down. Of course, it was Julian. He had bought a new BMW.

His previous car was a beat-up Honda of some sort, with sun damaged, peeling black paint. He had actually lived in that car for a period of time, after finding himself without an apartment. He had gone broke getting wine drunk for weeks at a time in Napa Valley. Fortunately, his wealthy Orange County family had bailed him out, and—when he wasn’t frequenting dive bars and sleeping in that Honda in Long Beach—he could live at his parent’s house somewhere in Newport. More often than not, he chose to get drunk and sleep in the car.

His new car did not double as his residency. He had moved into a studio apartment catty-cornered from my place. I had actually noticed the rental sign months earlier when he and I were still friends and mentioned it to him. Now, I felt like an idiot for doing so.

The BMW was shiny and white. When he rolled down the window, he didn’t say anything. The sun shined so brightly, I had to shield my eyes, and at first, I didn’t recognize him. This made him noticeably uncomfortable, maybe even hurt.

“Hi Julian, how are you?” I said flatly. I didn’t give him the satisfaction of reacting to his luxury item, although seeing him alongside something new, something changed, did ignite a foolish spark of hope in me.

He didn’t speak at first, but just nodded his head.

“Eventually,” he said, “’Sup?”

I wondered if he was already drunk. It was about 2 p.m.

“Just walking the dog,” I said, leaning on one hip, trying to look disinterested.
He nodded again, rolled up the window, and drove away. This encounter—the same cold exchange, Julian in his fancy new ride, and me walking my peppy little mutt—would happen again and again in the weeks to come.

The weather remained unusually chilly and wet, and I cursed my drafty apartment and inadequate heater. With each passing night alone, shivering in bed, my resolve weakened. One late night, half-drunk with my arms wrapped around myself for warmth, I gave in to my irrational loneliness. I couldn’t call Julian—I had deleted and blocked his number in such a way that I had no access to finding it on my cell phone. Instead, I had to find him on Facebook messenger, which felt even more desperate.

“I’m cold. Come keep me warm,” I messaged.

He didn’t respond for some time, and I fell asleep in the same position, holding myself, waiting for my phone to signal me back awake. That signal came early the next morning.
“I was passed out. Still cold tho’.”

Minutes later he was at my front door. I gently ushered him inside, taking his hand. He was warm and smelled of stale marijuana. I kissed him slowly and walked him to my bedroom. We spoke only briefly, some inane chit chat, maybe something about work, or more likely something about my pilot light not being lit—how cold I was, but not how lonely, or how much I missed him.

We laid in my bed. He spooned me and I pressed into him as he did. I pulled his arms around me, and he cupped my breast. He played with the lace bra I was wearing a little, exposing my nipple, and stroking it slowly. Everything he did seemed so slow, so deliberate. I reasoned this was because he was high, but it pleased me, and so I leaned into him harder.

We continued this slow dance for several minutes, before Julian pulled me on top of him, pushing my bra above my breasts and leaving it there instead of removing it. He took each of my breasts into his mouth, again, slowly, and encouraged me to push down on top of him. This wasn’t intercourse, but a playful kind of teenage flirtation. Something I used to call “Everything but…” I came softly, on top of him, my cheeks flushed, my hair shaken out loose, my bra still perched awkwardly on my chest.

“That was kind of fun,” he said as I rolled over next to him, his cum dripping down my inner thigh, “Fucking without really fucking,” he exhaled and leaned back on the bed next to me.

“Yeah it was cute, kind of like we’re kids,” I said.

“Yeah like don’t wake up mom,” he laughed.

“Well no, that makes it sound like we’re brother and sister,” I poked him and he laughed, wrapping his arms around me and spooning me again. Five minutes later he left to go to work.

I put a kettle of water on the stove and retreated to the bathroom alone. I stared at myself. I leaned in to the mirror, examining the fresh, pink scar above my right eye. I winced as I massaged it a little, and then opened the medicine cabinet. I applied over-the-counter scar gel to the area, something I had been doing for the past few weeks in hopes to lessen the appearance of my injury. I went back to my bedroom, refreshingly filled with sunshine and rainbows from the crystals hanging in my windows. It smelled warm and musty, like vanilla and biscuits and sweat. I picked up my phone from the nightstand, went back on Facebook messenger, and blocked Julian again.

I wouldn’t hear much from Julian for several weeks after that, other than seeing him cruise by my apartment once or twice. I spent any lonely moments repeating anti-Julian mantras like, He isn’t the one for you, or He is a drunk and a slob.

“He’s not romantic, he is high,” I would say aloud, looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and then spitting toothpaste into the sink, washing it down the drain.
I even wrote He got a new car, not a new personality! on a pink Post-It note and placed it in clear sight in my living room. I read it again and again each day as I did my morning Pilates, inhaling and exhaling with a new confidence that I had finally moved on. I called the gas company and had my pilot light re-lit.

After a few more chilly nights, the weather began to warm, and the nasty, unusual rains went elsewhere. California began to bloom like I had never seen it, a welcomed payoff for enduring the storms. Californians swooned over the fields of poppies, the hillsides now covered in green and orange and instead of the usual draught-ridden brown. My neighbors’ roses bloomed a bright crimson, lining the street in front of my apartment. All along the Long Beach bike path, tall, purple Lupine grew wild and free. The air smelled of lilac instead of inner city, and Esperanza trees dotted the city with their impressive golden, bell-shaped blooms.

I started experimenting with making fancy dinners for myself, as I had started to frequent the local farmer’s market and found myself inspired. Each night I opened all of my windows and propped open my front door. A brisk ocean breeze would sweep through the apartment this way, sending the aroma of each meal swirling over the patio of my building, over the rose bushes and sometimes enticing neighbors to stop by for a bite. One night, I shared a cauliflower crust pizza with goat cheese, chicken sausage and basil with the married couple from next door. Another, I made a chicken salad with cumin, lime and cherry tomatoes over a bed of fresh arugula, topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds. My neighbor Christina helped me eat that one. I sent her home with leftovers, and drank the half bottle of wine she left for me while I watched TV until bedtime.

After a long day, tired of entertaining guests, I closed the windows and made only a solitary turkey burger. I seasoned the meat with provincial French spices, and also added turmeric since a hippie friend had mentioned that it’s helpful for cleansing the liver. I opened a bottle of wine and just as I sat down to eat, I noticed a shadow on my front porch. My door was ajar, although the screen door was locked. I leaned over to see who was at the door. It was Julian.
He stood, slumped slightly at my stoop. He had seen me see him. There was no avoiding saying hello. I walked to the door cautiously. All of my mantras were suddenly lost.

“Why are you avoiding me?” He asked through the screen door, his voice too loud for the short distance between us. I didn’t open the door, but stood there unmoving.

“I’m not avoiding you,” I lied.

“You never respond to my texts. You blocked me on Facssebook,” he slurred.

“You’re drunk,” I said.

“Why are you avoiding me?” he asked again.

“You know why,” I told him, “I can’t be around you.”

“I told you I’m sorry,” he said. He held a small paper cup in his hand from the neighboring coffee shop. It was empty where his espresso had been. He crumpled it and dropped it on my doorstep. I unlocked the door to retrieve it.

“Take your trash with you,” I insisted. He had walked several steps away, but turned around, walking back to me. He pushed my extended hand, holding the paper cup, away, and leaned in, close. I could smell the coffee and liquor and pot on his breath. He leaned into me. The door was now ajar, and he pushed both of us inside.

“This isn’t happening,” I told him, and walked a few steps away, out of his reach. He followed me and pawed at me–not an act of aggression, but of drunken immaturity–and I recoiled. I walked to the freezer and retrieved an old pack of Marlboro Lights. I had quit smoking but kept these as a security blanket, just in case.

I pushed him outside, and stepped out with him. He provided me with a lighter, and we sat and shared a cigarette, in silence. After I extinguished the butt of the cigarette into the crushed paper cup, I walked inside alone and locked the door. He stood on my stoop for a few seconds, looking in through the adjacent window. By the time I had put the cup and cigarette butt in the trash can, he had gone.

The night things fell apart—the really, really bad night–started out innocently. Julian and I had just met a few weeks prior, and despite our mutual bad habits—we drank too much; smoked too much—we agreed that we genuinely liked one another. Friends asked what I saw in such a loser, and I tried to get them to understand that beyond his obvious flaws, there was some magic there. He made me feel the way I felt, alone in a new city, or just as I inhaled some bump of a new drug as a teenager. He had a buzz and a glow, but something constructed, something unnatural. I coined this sensation, this aura around him “Electric Blue.” He kissed me slowly, which none of the men I had kissed that year seemed to know how to do. We joked that we had known each other for 100 years. It was that kind of shit. Electric Blue. Naturally, we fucked it up.

Julian came over for dinner. He had just signed a lease on the nearby studio apartment I mentioned to him, and wanted to celebrate his foray out of “homelessness.” I made mushroom stuffed ravioli in a four-cheese sauce and a hearty salad. We ate merrily, and also drank copious amounts of vodka. Julian complimented me again and again on my culinary skills, which pleased me. I liked watching him eat a balanced meal. I liked providing him with that meal. I fantasized that he would change; that the alcohol was just a symptom of his loneliness; that my drinking was the same.

After dinner we made out on the sofa, and Julian lit a joint. I complained about him smoking inside, but after noticing that he couldn’t keep the joint lit, I hypocritically took a few drugs, trying to get the cherry to burn. This was a mistake. After the several hits of weed, the room began to spin. Chunks of my memory are missing after that—although the horror and intensity of what happened next remains clear. I am not sure how, but somehow, I got cut. At the time, I couldn’t tell how badly I was cut, but I was bleeding profusely from my head.

All I could see was the blood streaming down my face from the head wound. It was so much blood, and it filled my eyes, clouding my vision. At one point, I looked at Julian. He was just sitting back on the sofa, not moving, not trying to help. He kept telling me to stop crying, in a defiant, angry tone, but I was terrified and continued to cry. I stumbled around, my eyes coated in thick, gooey red, and felt around on my desk until I found my cell phone. I rubbed the blood from my eyes and asked Julian if I should call 911. He didn’t stand, but he did tell me not to call 911. I did anyway. When I looked down at the light blue terry-cloth shorts I was wearing, and saw that they were almost entirely burgundy with blood, I was sure I needed an ambulance.
Julian went from loudly asking me to put down the phone to yelling for me to put down the phone. Hearing his voice, the 911 operator became concerned and asked me if the man in the background had hit me.

“Did you hit me?” I asked Julian, “No, I don’t think he hit me,” I told her. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have called. I am very drunk,” I said.

I don’t remember what else was said, but she agreed to let me hang up and not to dispatch an ambulance.

I stumbled to the bathroom and identified where the blood was coming from. Above my right eye there was a deep gash. I knew then that it would need stitches. The amount of blood was overwhelming. I couldn’t stop crying. I called out for Julian, but he didn’t respond. I felt dizzy, and knew I would pass out soon. I staggered to the kitchen, where I wrapped a half a roll of paper towels around my head, securing it with tape.

“Julian?” I said as I staggered from the bathroom in my paper-towel dressing. Julian had left.
I was too drunk to go to the E.R. I stopped crying and went to bed.

The next day, I woke up on a pillow stained horribly in a cloud of dried, brown blood. My stomach turned. The paper towels were saturated with fresh blood, I was still bleeding, and where the older blood had dried, the paper towels stuck to my skin. This worked to my advantage by keeping the makeshift bandage somewhat in place.

I ran warm water in the bathroom sink and slowly removed the bloody towels. The wound was still wide open, but clean and even. I pressed the two hanging ribbons of flesh together and looked as if they fused perfectly. I removed my hand, and they separated again, as blood came streaming out. I took a bottle of superglue from the junk drawer in the kitchen and—after using some leftover vodka to sterilize it—glued the wound shut. I did a pretty good job, but, as I cleaned the remaining blood away, I said aloud,

“This is going to leave a nasty scar.”

About Auriane de Rudder

Auriane de Rudder is a writer located in Los Angeles. She writes fiction, prose and memoir inspired by the great duality of life–its beauty and ugliness–peeking around every corner. You can learn more about Auriane on her website, www.aurianederudder.com.

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