We were at the corner of Santa Monica and Beverly Glen, the good gas station that always had every flavor of Snapple, and he asked if it was better to love someone more than they love you, or if I’d rather have it the other way around where I’d love them more. Would they love me at all I asked and he said Maybe, but you’d always love them more, you’d be the one doing the chasing. So I said I’d rather be loved more but I didn’t mean it. What I really wanted was to leave. Weeks later I stood in my apartment, stoned, waiting for him to come rescue me because he had the good drugs to calm me down. That is how you know you are the loved and not the lover. And it doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would. It actually feels like nothing.
He picked me up in his green truck, the one he doesn’t have anymore. I was wearing a leather jacket. It was October. I had stopped seeing L because he said he didn’t love me. I made him say it. I said Tell me you don’t love me so he said I don’t love you so I felt free enough to go to Malibu. I was really done though, and I was doing better. But that’s when they always come back, when you’re doing better. I was writing a movie script. I was taking calls about plotlines and character development in between shifts at the restaurant and singing hymns at Bible study. I was all in, as they say. I was all caught up, as it were. He wanted me to have a good time. When we walked into the lobby, a girl gave us waters with orange peels.
He hopped the gate so we could get in. We brought our own towels. He liked to look at me. I liked to view the city from where he took me. Tonight it was Mar Vista. The blur of skyline, sun into water, thoughts of does he like me, the Italian restaurant on the corner where I pictured family dinners, the green neon lights on the bottom of the pool where my feet didn’t touch, crumbled cookies in a bag, sugar rush, sugar drugs, rolled up marijuana leaves crushed up into joints, smoking in the big truck, sitting on the lawn chairs, chests touching in the pool, wet faces, lips like candy fish. I could go back if I really wanted to, we could go swimming, maybe.
We waited for the room keys and he took me out to the terrace. People were eating lunch. It was around noon. Couples were taking pictures. He said You’d like to eat here later. We got in the room and he was acting coy, like he didn’t want to do anything. We ordered room service, he got a tuna melt and I got a club sandwich but he didn’t eat anything. I was starving and when I was done I straddled him on the couch and told him he could do what he wanted because I wanted some. I had my Bible in my purse and a notebook for movie ideas. I was still reading through the letters to the Ephesians. He said he wanted some of that good head I used to give him. I asked if I could see his new apartment in Santa Monica. He said Later.
He said there was a good taco truck that stopped in Brentwood around this time, around 2:00am, so we went and I waited in the car. He asked if I wanted anything and I said No. Wait. Yes. Just chips. And a Sprite. He took me back to his place. I let him have me and he wanted me to stay over but I didn’t. The first time we met up was at Chin Chin on Sunset and I wore a shirt without a bra. He let me take home all the leftovers. I knew we’d be a thing so after dinner I drove to this guy’s house, an actor and a real asshole, and told him it was over. He said Nice shirt, you look sexy, want to fool around? And even though I did I said No and left. My car smelled like Chinese food when I got back in.
I couldn’t wait to lose service in the canyon. He kept texting me about how sorry he was, and I didn’t want to hear it. There will be people who want to show you things, people who want you to have a nice time, enjoy your stay, come back, soon. For a while I saved money by only eating one meal a day. It made me lightheaded. It made me alert. I felt good and horrible. It was hard to work at the restaurant when I wasn’t eating. Every French fry felt like it was so far away, like it was something I could only dream about and never achieve for myself. There were orange trees in his backyard. I wondered where my sweater was and his little sister came in asking about a flannel shirt. She didn’t ask who I was. He said he had to drive her to school. I asked him about my sweater and he said, “You know what? You’re a real bummer,” and I didn’t disagree.
After we finished he laid down for a nap. I read outside, prayed a little bit. I tried to call the girl I was writing the movie with but I couldn’t get any service. The sun set and I watched it alone. I didn’t think about L. I thought about Paul writing all those letters. All those apologies, all those warnings. How you meet someone becomes irrelevant, but how you say I love you and whether you mean it or not is what makes the difference. I ordered myself a Caesar salad and a hamburger for my boy. He woke up when the food came and answered the door naked and nobody gave a shit. This was California country and he was out of his mind. Everything felt better once we were eating, like nutrients were all we needed. But then he knocked out again and I played Solitaire on the hotel IPad. I beat the high score and put his initials instead of mine.
Eat oranges in the winter. Eat one at your desk and peel the skin into a paper towel. Take the elevator down to the lobby and walk out to Wilshire if you need to cry. If you feel okay, sit underneath the abstract sculpture and eat your sandwich. Lay down on the hard surface and look up, up at the building. It looks blue. It looks black. Get a hot tea and sit in the hallway across from the film studio. Fall asleep for a few minutes and pretend you are somewhere else, living another life, not in this place. Buy a piece of a chocolate from the man downstairs at his convenience store. Tell yourself that it’s almost over, you can go home soon. If you get out early, the sky will still be pale blue. If you leave early enough, there will still be light.
I take the I-10 West to the 405 South to get there. I smoke a joint so that all the thoughts in my head will calm down by the time I arrive, switching interlacing lanes, high on highways these days, at these times when I move in the night. Ideas catch, wild ash spewing on my bare thighs on the drive, hoping he won’t be in a mood, unless it’s the mood, so we can forget about how hard the day was, how much we didn’t want to go into those morning doors. I keep my lighter in the cup holder and my stash in the center console. It’s always there when I need it. I thought about how nice it would be to have someone love me more than I loved them. I thought maybe someone loved me once and I loved them back and it was good.
My friend told me I needed to let him go just like I let L go and I said Yeah but I can’t just keep letting people go all the time and she said Yes you can when they’re the wrong people and I knew she was right so I shut up. I felt sick to my stomach at the airport and I remembered he had given me two pills to take before the flight. I took them both at the gate and fell asleep before we took off. We were flying thousands of feet above the ground when I forgot about all the people I had to let go of. I forgot about being patient and bearing with one another in love. I had a sour taste in my mouth, and even in my sleep I knew it was the oranges.
Brittany Ackerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. In 2016 she completed a residency at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, as well as the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, France under the instruction of Alan Heathcock. She recently attended the Methow Valley Workshop in May of 2017 under the leadership of Ross Gay. Her work has been featured in the West Texas Literary Review, Eunoia Review, Queen Mob’s Tea House, and others. She currently lives in Los Angeles, with her forthcoming collection of essays entitled, The Perpetual Motion Machine to be released by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2018.