Leigh Zurmuhlen: In Memory, Part VI
10/18/2012 § Leave a comment
I’m going to write this section while a little hypothyroid in prep for my one-year full body scan for thyroid cancer tomorrow morning. I’ve been on a low-iodine diet for almost two weeks and this is my fourth day off thyroid replacement; I’ve been shot up with Thyrogen, which is recombinant TSH, and been given a small dose of radioactive iodine. I’ve peed in cups and had my blood drawn. All I want to do is eat chocolate and sleep. I’ve given up writing for my clients until I’m back on Synthroid because my brain is too scrambled and I don’t want to deliver incoherence. We’ll see how it goes here…
Matt’s roommate, Mark, was really condescending about other people’s musical tastes, which meant I didn’t like him a lot of the time. He was also quite vocally opposed to violence against women. He claimed to have gotten physically ill during the movie True Romance. He hated film depictions of rape and considered porn exploitative of women. Mark had a girlfriend, Kimberly, who he frequently stayed with, in her single in King Hall. She was a senior and known to be emotionally unstable. She didn’t come by to hang out with the rest of us; Mark went to her. From what I gathered, they fought a lot.
Shortly after Matt moved into Lasalle, Mark had made a big deal out of the fact that guys were jerking off and not cleaning up after themselves in the one private bathroom in the building, off the front lobby. Mark liked to go in there for some privacy when taking a shit; he liked to read his Thrasher skate magazine and just relax a little, he said. But lately, he’d noticed way too much random semen on the toilet and floor. He was outraged, incredulous, ashamed for everyone. He was inspired to write a note and hang it in the bathroom. I don’t remember the contents in their entirety, but I do remember the line “More whizz, less jizz.”
Sometime shortly after Matt and I got together, Mark decided to buy a car. A 1973 Volkswagon Super Beetle clearly constructed out of three other Super Beetles. It cost like $400. The previous owner told him to take it in for a tune-up, but all Mark wanted to know is whether it could get us to Albuquerque. The guy said “Oh, it’ll get you to Albuquerque.”
The four of us—Matt and Mark in front, me and Leigh in the back—set off in the early afternoon. I didn’t care so much about hitting a (relatively) big city, but the others were jonesing for a little urban flavor. I think we didn’t even turn onto I-25 from St. Francis Drive before the front hood of the car flew up and smacked against the window. We pulled over. Apparently, there was no actual latch holding that piece of the car firmly in place, so we secured it with my belt. As we drove on, Matt kept smelling gasoline. The smell was so strong he prohibited smoking cigarettes in the car. When we pulled off at the half-way point for a smoke break, he realized there was gas running down the side of the car because Mark hadn’t actually screwed the gas cap back on after filling up on our way out of town. We were lucky the gas cap was still on the car.
In Albuquerque we went to record stores, cafés, used clothing stores, head shops, bookstores, the mall, and a tattoo parlor. The guys roamed around Central Avenue while Leigh and I went to Sachs. I got a tattoo of a butterfly and Leigh got her bellybutton pierced. I’ve had this tattoo since 1994, and people still ask me if it’s real, or why it’s lopsided. I drew it, and it’s flying. Deal with it. The guy that gave it to me was too bigand strong for such delicate design. He squeezed the crap out of my arm while going too deep with the needle. There was blood pouring down the whole time. And then I got stuck overnight without Neosporin, rubbing alcohol, or a good moisturizer.
Leigh and I got our first tattoos together at the beginning of the semester in Santa Fe, from a woman named Springer. I got a Capricorn symbol on my shoulder and Leigh got a Chinese symbol for strength, I think, but I don’t remember where on her body. Her shoulder or her ankle. Spring told us how men sometimes used too heavy of a hand and caused keloid scarring. At Sachs, the body piercer took Leigh into a private room. It took her as long to get pierced as it took me to get an entire tattoo, and when we left she just kept dreamily saying that it had been a magical, almost erotic experience.
On our way out of town, the car suddenly slowed down.
“What’s happening?” I asked as Matt steered to the shoulder, just under the sign for the Paseo del Norte exit.
“I don’t know,” he said. He tried to start the car again, but nothing happened.
“This car will get you to Albuquerque,” Leigh said, “but it won’t get you back.”
It was late already, 10 or 11 o’clock. There was a hotel just across the ditch, so we hoofed it over there. Mark tried to call his girlfriend to see if she could come get us, but he couldn’t get a hold of her. It’s possible we tried to find Lestat. Very few people we knew had cars. We didn’t have much choice but to get a room for the night at the Amberly Suites, although I was the only one with the means to pay for it. I didn’t have a credit card, and this was before debit cards were standard. A hotel employee drove me and Matt to a nearby 7-11 so I could use the ATM. We also bought snacks. Chips and salsa. I remember. The hotel room cost $90. When we got back to the hotel and checked in, Mark and Leigh were playing backgammon in the lobby. Mark didn’t find it important to come see the room with us, and he didn’t say thank you or anything to me. I got really annoyed.
I think the whole thing must have given me a panic attack. Everyone else wanted to use the hotel’s facilities—there was steam room or a hot tub—but I wanted to stay in the room. Matt might have stayed with me. I can’t remember. I do recall that I had a panic-induced asthma attack that I’m almost positive I was alone for. (I don’t have asthma.) I remember Matt came up in time to watch Conan O’Brien, who was only in his first or second season then. I remember that Leigh ate all the chips. I remember that Matt and I stayed on the fold-out in the living-room part of the suite, and Mark and Leigh took the bedroom. She thought it would be okay to kind of kiss and cuddle, which she said was expected if you were going to sleep in a bed with a guy. But then Kimberly showed up. She and a friend had been driving the highway back and forth, looking for Mark’s shitty car. They found it and after that it wasn’t tough to find us. When she came into the room, she started crying and hitting Mark all over his arms and chest. He pulled her into the bedroom and closed the door. For reasons I can’t remember now—probably that we had paid for the room already—Kimberly and her friend went back to Santa Fe for the night while the rest of us, including Mark, remained at the hotel. They came back in the morning to pick us up.
I just remembered that one of the reasons we were heading back to Santa Fe so late was that we got locked out of the car in the mall parking lot. We spent hours in the cold, breaking into the car. Mark locked the keys inside.
We got back to campus in time for afternoon classes, which for me and Mark was our fiction workshop. I didn’t believe in missing workshop, since it was once a week and a course in my major. Mark didn’t come to class. I was really annoyed and almost personally affronted by this. A few days later, I told him he owed me his share of the room charge: $30. He refused to pay. So I took a shirt of his that I liked. A few nights after that, I turned up all the volume controls on his amps, which he kept sitting on all the available chairs in the room, as if they were people. He was furious about the amp debacle and moved a lot of his stuff out of the room. We had some kind of argument about this on the Quad, and after that, Mark didn’t really come back to his and Matt’s room very often, so I started spending a lot more nights there.
All the while, I was becoming better friends with Florinda, Melinda, and Erin. They were friends with Johnny and they often hung out in Lestat’s room. One night, Florinda seemed really upset. She drank or smoked too much and she wound up throwing up. Lestat ordered someone to bring in the huge garbage can from the hall bathroom. While Florinda retched helplessly, everyone gathered on the other side of the room as though she was going to infect them—except for me. When I noticed I hadn’t leaped away on instinct, I realized I’d become numb to vomit, so I went over and held her hair and gave her water. When she felt a little better, she told me that she’d been seeing YB and that a few nights before they’d had it all set for him to come over to her room for a romantic interlude, but he never showed up. As it turned out, he’d spent that evening in my room, with Leigh. Florinda had spent the last few days so heartbroken that she’d dehydrated herself, thus the vomiting after a beer or two.
In the meantime, Leigh had started hanging out with Matt’s ex-girlfriend, Anemone.
One day, Matt was rummaging through the room on the hunt for loose change. He wanted to get a Coke from the vending machine. He went through his closet and then turned to Mark’s closet. Mark had all but vanished from Lasalle, but he’d never officially moved out or anything. Matt patted down the pants on hangers and the stacks of stuff on the top shelf, which included a pile of magazines. Matt took down a copy of Thrasher and opened it—only to find a copy of Barely Legal tucked inside. He took down the other magazines and found most of them were porn—copies of Hustler and Barely Legal, something called Every Man Loves a Blowjob, as well less mainstream stuff.
Porn was always sort of floating around the edges of things because Lestat was a DJ at Cheeks, Santa Fe’s only strip club. I was going to go once, just to check it out, but at the last second Lestat decided they wouldn’t let me in without ID—and then took Matt with him. Matt was actually younger than me. When he came back that night, Matt was buzzed and wanted to tell me all about his conversations with the dancers. I made a rule then and there that if Matt went to Cheeks at night, he had to wait until morning to talk to me. As far as I know, he didn’t go back again that semester, although, who knows? The thing of it was, Matt wasn’t really a strip-club guy. He was honestly more into finding out who the dancers were as people, why they’d chosen such a dark line of work. Of course they were all really nice to him, the cutie-pie college friend of the creepy gay-vampire DJ. Cheeks was really seedy. It’s still there. It’s practically across the street from my house.
Upon his discovery, Matt summoned Leigh and me to his room. Leigh was the first to offer that she had long thought Mark was full of crap. “When he was griping about ‘more whizz, less jizz’—look, I use that bathroom, too. It’s private. And I spend a lot of time up close and personal with the toilet. I can tell you that I have never noticed any semen anywhere, but I can tell you that Mark doesn’t flush after he does his business. It’s like, about pride or something. Remember when we stayed in the hotel? Same thing there.”
We spent hours looking at the porn, reading the letters and the stories out loud to each other. Ultimately, I think we took out some centerfolds out and put them on the underside of Matt’s bed, between the mattress and the metal frame, which was elevated over Mark’s bed. Mark would be able to see them if he ever slept in the room again. And he saw them soon enough. I think there was another argument. This is very fuzzy. Matt says that Leigh is the one who confronted Mark about the porn, and he thinks the magazines were originally GoDaddy’s. What I remember most is that this was around the time Matt and I rearranged. We unstacked the beds and put them side-by-side. After that, Mark moved all of his things out of the room.
Kurt Cobain died. I remember sitting in the downstairs lounge with a lot of people in the middle of the day, so we must have already known and been in there watching MTV for details. In my memory, Leigh and YB walk in together and we tell them, but this might be confabulation. But I can see her, off to my left, entering the lounge, seeing us all there, saying the thing everyone says when someone tells you someone you love has died.
That night, there was a battle of the bands in Oñate Hall. There was some obnoxious band we already didn’t like, and the lead singer talked all kinds of smack about how lame Nirvana was. Leigh got really upset. A lot of people did. It seemed like the band was trying to be too cool for school, like they were so above liking Nirvana that it was laughable that the lead singer had shot himself. I think people booed and walked out.
Many months later, at a party, I would witness two friends of mine, Ricky and Theo, engage in a heated debate about why Cobain killed himself. Theo was of the opinion that he did it “for his fans, because he loved the music so much but he hated the business.” Ricky was of the opinion that Cobain killed himself because he was a heroin addict and he didn’t want to live anymore.
Around Easter, I had some visitors. First my twin brother came to visit and then my best friend from high school, Melissa, stopped by during a road trip after she dropped out of Rhode Island School of Design. Because I was essentially living with Matt at this point, I didn’t see why my bed couldn’t serve as a guest-room. It’s possible I was taking Leigh’s boundaries for granted with this, which I did not consider at the time. When my guests arrived, I warned them that if the room smelled strangely, to just deal with it and not mention it. When my brother came, she got very drunk and threw up in the room. She threw up on the floor; she threw up in my travel mug that I took with me sometimes to classes in the morning, full of tea. I don’t remember exactly what happened, because I entered some kind of rage blackout. I remember getting mercenary. I wrote her a bill, I think, asking her to give me money for or buy me a new travel mug and garbage can. She responded by wanting to be repaid for my share of the two meals her parents had bought me.
It was a bad fight. I assume I was crying because I tend to cry during those kinds of fights, and I know she was crying. She was hung-over and miserable. She told me again how badly she hated her eating disorder. All she wanted was to go to this specialized eating disorder hospital in Arizona, but her parents’ insurance wouldn’t pay for it. The care she’d gotten in New York had made her feel spied upon, violated, and mistrusted at every turn. “They watch you shit,” she said.
We made up.
The day before, Matt sprained his ankle skateboarding. After the fight, we spent the rest of the day walking down St. Michael’s Drive to the old Lovelace Medical Center, which was far and made his ankle much worse. My brother insisted on paying for a cab to take us back to campus. We waited for it for over an hour. That building houses sports medicine services for St. Vincent Medical Center now. I go there for treatment for lymphatic issues related to my thyroid surgery.
Mexico is about a five-hour drive from Santa Fe. Santa Fe and northern New Mexico is on a major drug corridor. Some counties around here have generations-old, families-wide heroin addiction problems. Just over the border, in Juarez, there are all kinds of bars, including live nude shows. You can buy just about anything on the street, and all kinds of things that are prescription-only here are sold legally over the counter there. CSF was a historically Catholic college, so classes were cancelled for Good Friday as well as for Easter Monday. This four-day weekend provided ample opportunity for trips to Juarez. People came back with souvenirs.
One of the problems CSF had with retaining students was that they were bored with the nightlife. There was barely any to speak of. All the bars in town were over-21, and the student programming we were offered usually consisted of movie nights or dances in Oñate. Once in a while, there was an open mic night. I really wasn’t bored, since what I enjoy most is sitting around and talking, but some people were kind of miserable. And they were partiers. When Lestat said, “Whoever wants to try coke tonight, come to my room,” the guys looked at their 40-ouncers of Mickey’s, the same thing they’d been drinking practically every night since January, and said “Why not?” The girls probably thought it was edgy, or glamorous. I don’t know about them. Most of the people who decided coke was for them weren’t people I knew very well. But first, before the mass invitation, Leigh pulled me aside to tell me that she was going to do coke with Lestat. She’d done it a couple of times in New York, and she liked it, but she knew I kind of disapproved of those kinds of drugs, so she wanted to let me know. She wanted to be honest with me. And she wanted me to hang out with her and Lestat because she wanted me to see that she wasn’t going to die from doing a couple of lines.
I remember that Leigh and Lestat were very thirsty and jittery. Lestat had pushed his beds together by then, and I remember that it felt like an ocean, with Matt and I on the shore and Leigh and Lestat floating in the middle, fussing with a razor blade and a broken-off piece of mirror. After they snorted a line, they licked the mirror. I feel now like there must be a joke to be made about Lestat being able to see his reflection, but I don’t know what it is.
One night shortly after that, Matt was acting weird. We were hanging out in his room with Florinda, Melinda, Erin, Johnny, Carlos, and several others. It seemed like we should be having a good time, but Matt seemed really upset. He kept looking at me with this terrified, concerned expression, and he was really quiet. Florinda kept looking at me with searching eyes. When Matt told me there was something he had to talk to me about after everyone left, I became convinced he’d cheated on me with her. But, as it turned out, he wanted to confess that he had done coke with Lestat earlier that day. He was scared I was going to break up with him over it.
“I just wanted to try it,” he said.
“Are you going to do it again? Because it’s me or the coke.”
“I’m never going to do it again,” he said. And as far as I know, that was the truth.
The semester was winding down. Summer was less than a month away. I’d gone in on a storage space for the summer with Florinda and Erin, so I was in my room trying to pack up some things ahead of time, since I was barely living there anymore anyway. My stuff was all kinds of messy, a pile of clothes pouring out of my closet onto my desk. I think Leigh had rearranged the room a little; it was more like a double- as-a-single because she’d pushed the beds together. I didn’t mind that. As far as I knew, we were still friends. We still ate lunch together most days, even though we really didn’t hang out at night because she was in Lestat’s room, doing coke. I think he might have made other people contribute money, once the original stash was gone, but not Leigh. She was like his new best friend. She even slept in his room sometimes, on the nights when his new boyfriend, a guy named Stephen, wasn’t there. Stephen was a local who didn’t go to CSF. He was a cutie. I remember Florinda asking him if he believed that Lestat was a vampire. He said “I believe that he believes it.”
When Leigh had first moved in, we decorated the door with all kinds of words and pictures from magazines. Our names were on there, somewhere, but the door was so busy that it was hard to locate them at a glance. I didn’t think anything of it when Matt, who was helping me pack, told me he couldn’t find my name on the door. I went over to find it for him, but I couldn’t. And then I did. Under another word cut out of a magazine: BITCH. It was only taped on the top, so that it was easily flipped up to reveal my name underneath.
Matt insisted that Anemone had probably done it, not Leigh, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t think Anemone had done it in secret, without Leigh’s knowledge and permission.
I hadn’t known she was mad at me. It just seemed like our lives had gone in different directions. She was the one who decided to start doing coke every night. She knew I didn’t really enjoy hanging out with Lestat—why would that have suddenly changed?
I don’t think we ever spoke again.
I packed up all my stuff. I went to Housing and talked to the director. “My roommate is bulimic and I can’t handle it anymore. She taped the word ‘bitch’ over my name on the door. Our room smells horrible, and she’s going to die if she doesn’t get help. Matt’s roommate lives with his girlfriend, so can’t I live with Matt?” I didn’t tell about the coke, because I didn’t want everyone to get busted for weed, too.
The director of Housing allowed me to be listed on the books as living with another girl on my floor who didn’t have a roommate, though she said if they needed me, they knew where to find me.
“What about Leigh?” I asked.
“Maybe if it wasn’t so close to the end of the semester, we could have done something for her,” she said.
But the semester wasn’t over. It was all far from over.