“All I have in this world are my balls and my word.”
That’s a quote from the movie Scarface that the Geto Boys used as a sample in a song. A song I’d been listening to obsessively for weeks, that ran through my mind that morning as I lay in bed, struggling to face my day.
I was living in Hollywood at the time, in a small guesthouse bordered by a concrete yard where vatos tuned their engines to a thumping bass, and the main house, where a C-list actor was shooting heroin into his veins.
I was frozen. I’d hit a wall. Years ago I’d abandoned my acting career, now I had a second chance — a screenplay had been optioned, I was taking meetings to direct, having drinks with starlets who struck yoga poses mid-conversation. I should have been over the moon, determined that this time I was going to make it. But Hollywood made me sick. The girls with flat abs and breezy stories about blowjobs, the movie posters plastered on buses and skies. The gridlocked freeways and endless miles of strip malls packed with acting studios and headshot photographers, reminding me what I’d lost.
That morning I was supposed to get up and head to work. My job was legal videography. Every day I sat behind a video camera, listening to lawyers scream objections over patent infringements. The offices were 40 stories above downtown L.A., sealed glass boxes of dead air. Recently it had had become unbearable. I lay in my bedroom and stared at the lavender walls. My balls. My balls and my word. I kept repeating this mantra as if I would absorb its machismo through osmosis. Rise up; rise up out this sticky murk, the ratty palm trees clinging to my ankles like shackles.
My alarm went off and I hit snooze. Get up. No. I was tired. The previous night my agent had come pounding on my door after phoning for hours, determined to make me love him. Every man in this city is a stalker, driven mad by the isolation. I imagined this as my life forever, living down a driveway choked with telephone wires, meetings with short bald men at Paramount who lay clammy palms on my knees, alarm-drive-work-home-write, my very own movie montage of isolation and loneliness. My balls and my word. Get up.
The cat jumped on the bed with a violent throaty purr, his tiny face impassive. He nudged me and I took him in my arms, my eyes glued to the ceiling. I imagined zipping up my skirt, putting on mascara, starting the engine on the car, the seat warmer set to high. Traffic. Just last week an SUV had cut me off, the owner flinging himself across my hood, his face contorted in rage. Kerouac was right. Los Angeles was the most lonesome city in the world. Axl Rose was right, this city was a jungle. The Geto Boys were right, all I had left were my balls and my word, which I was starting to realize weren’t much. What had happened? It was as if I woken up in another person’s life, the shock that jarring, my environment that unfamiliar. I used to be outspoken, fearless. I didn’t recognize this new me and it scared me, drove me back under the sheets.
The snooze went off on the alarm and I struggled to sit up. Get up. I felt on the brink, dangerously close to slipping into a permanent life that would force me to die full of regret. My balls. My word. Get up. I kicked off sheets and staggered from the bedroom to the front door like a caged farm animal starving for light. Outside I fell to my knees on the hot driveway and tried to calm my breath until the heaving subsided. It was 8am and already the sun burning like a klieg light in the anemic blue sky. My balls and my word. Stand up. Change your life. You must change your life. A screen door slammed and the actor rushed out, beeping the alarm on his BMW. The previous week I’d heard him pleading with repo men, his sobs racking the night.
“Nice day!” he shouted.
“Very nice,” I smiled back.
He started the car, his stereo blasting pop as he gunned the engine and shot down the driveway. I watched the cherry red taillights until he turned. This will not be my future! I looked around, suddenly elated, desperate to share this information but the courtyard was empty. From behind me came the jingle of the cat’s tags. I reached for him as he floated past, but he leapt out of distance and walked away. I shielded my eyes into the sun. No smog today. I got up to make coffee.
Soseh Kevorkian is currently working on a memoir about growing up in an Oakland girl gang, entitled “Bitches Galore.” She has been awarded multiple residencies at both Squaw Valley and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation with excerpts from her memoir.