Here is my fancy new blog! I registered the domain and everything. I’d like to think that this is another step towards becoming a writer that people take seriously. Let’s see how it goes?
I have been depressed and moody for weeks now. I don’t know. Something about the season is in my bones, making me restless and stagnant all at once. I sit in my bedroom with listening to the same records over and over again, wishing I was in Asheville, wishing I could take root in Olympia, wishing I was nowhere.
I think about how once upon a time when I was a teenager, my mother struggled with the same weight of darkness and sat in an empty cold house all day, day after day, smoking cigarettes and playing solitaire. I never know how to explain it. My father died, and she fell into that grief forever, and effectively stopped living with him. I always worry I am headed down the same path.
Last night I woke from a dream about both of them, and the darkness in my room felt completely abyssal. It felt impossible to even differentiate between the dark night air, and my body. I laid in bed for twenty minutes, trying to slow my breath, and return my heart rate to normal, listening.
I live by the highway, the hum of passing cars fills my room at all hours. It reminds me of so many sleepless nights before this one. We lived near the highway in Pennsylvania. I would lay in bed at night, unable to sleep and listen to the rumble of tractor trailers off in the distance. It wasn’t comforting, but it was a reminder that the world existed outside my bedroom.
Seven years ago, I moved to Asheville. I spent my first night in town fitfully trying to sleep in Josh’s bed on Chestnut Street. I tossed and turned all night, and spoke rapidly of a sense of foreboding dread. I had never experienced anything like it before.
“I don’t know what it is, but something is just wrong.”
The night felt alive with an inexplicable menace dancing just at the edges of my perception.
We finally managed to sleep around four or five in the morning. We woke sometime around ten or eleven. I walked to the grocery store to get some orange juice, and walked home, still unable to shake the nagging sense of dread.
We lit up a joint of pedicularis to try and calm my nerves. Inhale smoke, exhale slowly. Just the rhythm of breathing seemed to help just a little bit. The smoke didn’t make me cough much, and it wasn’t weed, so it’s not like I got high.
Right then, the screaming started downstairs.
The call had come to someone who lived down there. Sali was dead in Mexico. She had been murdered. Her body had been in a small cabin for several days to two weeks at least. They had to identify her by her tattoos.
The next several hours were spent making phone calls with the worst news I could think of. In between calls I would sit against a large tree in the yard at Chestnut and try and catch my breath. The sky was gray and strained.
“I wish I was calling you with good news, or just to say hello.” I said to Hannah.
Josh and I frantically looked at Mexican news sites, hoping it had been a mistake, or a sick joke, or anything other than the horrible reality of another friend gone forever, and in worst possible way. One website had a photo of her body as it had been found in the cabin. The air between Josh and I practically froze. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach.
“I wish I could un-see that.” I said.
“Me too.” was all he could reply.
I saw the afterimages of that photo for hours that day, every time I closed my eyes. It felt like a bad dream revisiting, night after night. The whole day felt like that, really. I sat on the sidewalk and argued with Stephanie over the phone. Always the tragedy junkie, she felt the need to see the photo, to bear witness in some morbid way I couldn’t understand. I told her I couldn’t remember the URL, and that I wouldn’t give it up, even if I remembered.
We had a different relationship to tragedy. She felt the need to be in some semblance of control, if only information. It made sense in a way. We live in a place where we are all totally disempowered the majority of the time, and this was the one tiny way to feel empowered.
The last time I had seen Sali alive had been in Tuscon, just four months prior. A friend had been hit by a car on her bicycle the night before in a hit and run. Miraculously, she was mostly alright. Just shaken up. A quasi functional alcoholic, she was limping around at Sali’s house, recovering, drinking her body out of it’s soreness.
Our second night in town we spent laying on a dirty couch in the living room of a punk house, taking turns reading a book to one another. We had played dress up with some cute skirts we had found in the trash earlier that night, only to stay in. I was on my back staring at the ceiling while my friend read aloud, and played with my hair. Sali came home.
“Oh my god. You two look adorable.”
She stood in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen and told us about her night belly dancing, and her upcoming trip to Mexico. She was vibrant, excited, much like every other time I had seen her. That was it. Sali was always full of life. Full of life in a way that you think it can’t be extinguished. You never expect that flame to go out. In the days following her death that was a sentiment often heard repeated.
In the next week, Sali’s killer was apprehended, not by the police, but by punks in Mexico City who had their suspicions she had been killed by an acquaintance. As the story goes, they cornered him on the street, demanding to know where the cuts all over his body that looked suspiciously like knife wounds came from. He initially claimed that villagers in the town he had just been staying in attacked his dogs. That story fell apart, and he eventually confessed to killing Sali. The punks beat him within an inch of his life and handed him over to the police.
He went to trial eventually, and was sentenced to thirty years to life. At the sentencing Sali’s mother confronted him.
“You killed my daughter.” She said.
“I had to. She was too strong.” Was his only reply.
“I had to. She was too strong.”
I imagined my friend’s mother, confronting her only child’s killer. I felt the vicious weight in those words from thousands of miles away.
Life has blessed me with a vivid and visceral memory. Sometimes it feels like a curse too, remembering things with enough detail that I feel them, over and over. I remember the first time I met Sali. We were on Beelen Street in Pittsburgh. I had just hopped freight trains for the first time, and found myself alone in a strange city fifteen hundred miles from home. Beelen Street was a small, dead end street In Pittsburgh. It had four houses total. One of them was a punk house, the house across the street was owned by punks, and a house at the end of the street was squatted.
Further up at the end of the dead end street was a wooded area filled with trails, and make shift camps that the punks had made. Two cement barricades stood at the entrance of the woods, ostensibly to keep vehicles from making their way into the woods, I guess.
Someone had spray painted “Cops beware” across the barricades. I slept up their my first night in town, but the drinking and fighting that some of the punks got into in those woods was too much for my jangled nerves. I made my way back down the street and onto the couch of one of the punk houses. Someone had named the house Centro Del Mundo.
Sometime that week, I met Sali for the first time. I was sitting on the couch in the house when she came in to ask if someone could walk her and her rat back up to the woods. She had been headed up there to sleep, when two cops caught her alone and harassed her for a while. She was nervous to walk back up there on her own. This is important, because this is maybe the first and only time I saw Sali afraid. We walked up to the foot of the trail, and made small talk. I don’t remember what about.
“It was nice meeting you, and nice chatting. Be safe.”
I walked back down the hill, and the next day went to the trainyard to make my way home. I’d see Sali again throughout the years. Our paths crossing continuously as we crossed the country over and over. Denver, Richmond, Tuscon. We made up a fraction of that small circle of friends who spent our youth crisscrossing the country on trains and on highways.
We were never tight. I’ve come to a point where I can just admit that I’m not tight with a lot of people, but she was my friend. I liked her.
Lizzie and I went on a trip together in the fall of 2006. We stayed with Sali in Tuscon. I was newly exploring the facets of a more fluid gender identity. We spent a lot of time on the couch sewing clothes together, or riding our bikes around in skirts.
I was also viciously depressed, and fighting too much with Lizzie. We had been stuck together for close to two months, in my tiny truck or in one punk house or another. I’m mostly leaving that part out of the story. It sounds better when I leave the hard parts out. This shit is a bummer as it is.
One day Sali and I went to Mexico to spend a day working with No Mas Muertes. I don’t like to talk about it much to this day. We crossed the border, and just on the other side there were factories filled with workers making starvation wages. Someone told us that just the other day, a woman had somehow climbed the twelve foot wall and jumped, only to break both legs and be deported back to Mexico.
What do you say to that? “Hey, sorry my privilege and comfort are part of the complex system of oppression and exploitation that cause the world to work like this? Sorry you crossed the burning desert for however many days only to get caught and deported. Here’s a bottle of water and cheese sandwich.”
We got detained crossing back into the United States. Sali had forgotten her ID. As Sali was caucasian, the process took less than fifteen minutes. The fifteen minutes consisted of mostly posturing from border patrol. The border guard spent more time questioning the two folks we were with who were not white. When he asked what we had been doing on the other side of the border, one of them replied “Humanitarian aid.”
With an air of nonchalant arrogance, the border guard piped up:
“Let me ask you this.” He said.
Oh god, here we go.
“What about the rapist or child molester who finishes serving a prison sentence in the United States and gets deported upon his release? Are you going to give him water too?”
It felt like an old tactic. Racist shitheads using the most emotionally loaded subjects as leverage to get their point across. Like if we replied in anything other than the negative, we were obviously pro sexual violence. My eyes practically glazed over at the tired predictability of it all.
I would have bet you money that this dude could care less about the tide of sexual violence any other day of the week.
Sali just looked him dead in the eye.
“I suppose you’d rather we’d just wait until someone’s skin is cracked and they are dying of thirst, and then make them beg for water. Can we go yet?”
For a moment, the air went electric. Holy fuck. My friend just said that. To a border cop. He balked at her defiance, but didn’t push the issue any further, and let us go.
Walking home drunk one night not long after we got the news, I played that scene over and over. I cried and slurred, and tried get the words out to Josh. The bravery, and the defiance that Sali lived with. It was a fraction of what most people had. It was what I had admired so much about her. She left home at sixteen to travel, and made her way across North America countless times, often by herself. I had seen her stand up to drunk aggressive men, to cops, to anything.
Even on the day we got the news; when we were reading Mexican news websites someone recognized her knife on the floor in pictures of the room she was murdered in. This image alone assured us that even the last minutes of her life, had been lived bravely, fighting like hell.
My words came out in a drunken jumble, and I eventually fell silent. We passed the abandoned building that they would eventually turn into the Moog Museum, and drive up the rent in the neighborhood, making it practically uninhabitable and unrecognizable in less than a decade.
I was crying harder now.
“Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!”
I swung at one of the windows, slamming my fist into the glass. It was thick, and barely cracked. I felt two of my knuckles go as soon as the connected with the glass. Somewhere in the alcoholic haze I knew that my hand would give out before the window did. Reason took over, and I stumbled the rest of the way to pass out in Josh’s bed. I woke up hungover, shivering and with an aching hand, and walked to the store to get orange juice, just like the morning we found out Sali was gone.
I carry that night with me still. For years, it almost felt like my annual night to get drunk, freak out, and make poor decisions.
On the second anniversary, I spent the morning in therapy clutching a two year old picture of Sali, and crying my eyes out. I did my best to lay the groundwork for holding it together. I would make it through today, goddamnit.
Sure enough, by night I found myself at a bar where my friends were dancing. Three drinks in, I was ready to go. Outside, there was the smug boy who disrespected one of my friend’s physical boundaries, manipulated her, did his best to silence her and her supporters, subtly physically intimidated them, and then topped it off by writing a letter to “the community” explaining how he was such a nice dude, and he was so unfairly targeted by this vengeful ex and her friends.
He was in the midst of some sort of altercation with another person, and I stumbled up to pull his hat off his head, and throw it in his face.
“All my friends get murdered, and it’s because of the patriarchy, and because of you.”
Drunken logic, I know. Not one of my finer moments.
I shoved him, and someone pulled us apart. I’m glad too. It was a dumb thing to do. I’ve never felt sorry for holding that line though.
My boyfriend chastised me for embarrassing him in public, when we were supposed to be putting on a good face for the rest of the queer community.
Whatever. I stumbled home alone, sobbing. I missed my friend. I was tired of seeing the forces that took her life play themselves out on a micro level within my own community. Yeah, I said it. Smug men stalking and gaslighting my friends may not be on the same level as men who rape and murder my other friends, but it’s part of the same rotten culture.
The next morning, hungover and in the grocery store buying coconut water, I saw my therapist and her son in the next checkout line. I hid my haggard face in shame. Ouch.
Alectoria and I would talk about the day we heard, years later, walking home in Sacramento. It was still fresh in our minds. We had been out of touch when it happened, so we had catching up to do.
When she heard she had been picking up the child she nannied at elementary school, with her infant son in her arms. The call came, and she was on the ground sobbing, holding her child to her chest, unable to speak any words other than “What kind of world have I given you?”
I don’t know how to end this. I miss my friend. I wonder what she would have turned into in the last seven years. I’m sure it would have been so incredible. She could have been anything. Her light was snuffed out way too soon by the vicious evil that is patriarchy.
The worst part of this story is it’s commonality. You’ve all heard this story too many times before. If you haven’t heard this story, you’ve heard a variation on it, or someone else’s version of it, but you’ve heard it.
I want a story with a brand new ending. I want a story where we don’t treat our atrocities like they are facts of life, and let horrors fall like rain.
Marcella Grace Eiler