Dispatch 29 (Dec. 6, 1998 Part 2)
There was a light drizzle and the black streets were
slick and mirrored with a hundred fast-food shops, automotive parts stores and 7-Elevens
as I headed east on Riverside toward Gina.
I had the directions written in a notepad and I kept
looking down at it, trying to figure out if Id gone too far. I hit Pleasant Valley,
passing the big hill near the HEB and the old,
There was a road off to the left that dead-ended at the
apartments I was heading toward. The gate was brightly lit and secure. A little speaker
box with a phone pad greeted me at the entrance.
I dialed the apartment number Gina had given me, my arm
hanging out from the Hondas window as the drizzle misted my skin. After the first
ring, a mans voice, deep and rough as a broken well, answered. "Hello?"
"Hi. Im here to pick up Gina," I said.
"Who is it?" the voice barked.
"Its Heather. Ginas expecting me."
I heard some discussion, muffled and distorted by the
cheap speaker. I couldnt understand what was being said, but I understood the tone.
Ginas host was pissed off, and I wasnt sure why.
There was a beep and then the gate began to open.
"Thanks," I said, but by the time I got the word
out, the speaker had shut off.
I drove on around the apartment circle hesitantly, my
instinct telling me I should turn around and leave, let Gina deal with whatever her
dilemma was. If she was stuck, she could take a cab. If she couldnt afford a cab,
she could walk to the HEB and ask a cop there for a ride.
Why was I here? Did I owe her anything at all?
I drove on, frustrated by my inability to extricate myself
from even the stupidest of situations. If she was in trouble, I rationalized, I should be
there to help.
I parked next to the building and climbed up the stairs
with the black metal rails. An apartment I passed blasted loud Tejano music, the sounds of
the strings and accordion boomeranging outside in the cool air.
Upstairs, I found the apartment and knocked on the door. A
few moments later, Ginas friendly guy answered.
He swung the door open a few inches, sticking his face in
the open crack. He was tall, over six feet, and his tanned face would have been handsome
if not for the scowl he gave me. He looked me up and down, his glance pausing as my chest,
then dismissed me casually. He turned away and yelled, "Gina, your rides
He let the door swing open behind him and I followed. The
apartment was elegant a marble-topped coffee table, Greek columns holding vases and
houseplants, a huge entertainment system with a large television set. The set was off and
from the stereo, I could hear soft Latin music playing, even over the booming chorus from
The apartments dweller, wearing white gym shorts and
a gray Nike muscle shirt, went to one of the bedrooms. "Gina!" he yelled.
I caught the first look at her as she was storming out of
the room. She blew past they guy, throwing her shoulder against him, knocking him back.
His face contorted from a frown into a sneer and he reached forward to grab her.
He caught hold of her arm, pulling it roughly. Gina, her
hair swinging wildly, flung her arm away, getting loose.
"Let me fucking go!" she screamed. I rushed
forward, unaware that I was doing it until I was between them.
Our humble host yelled back at her, looking past me as if
I were Madame Invisible. "Go, bitch! Get your ass outta here, puta!"
Im not as well versed in Spanish curse words as I maybe ought to be by now, but
even I knew Gina wouldnt stand to be called a "puta," whatever that means,
and I guessed she wouldnt be content to walk out the door and let it slide.
I looked toward her and sure enough, she was beginning to
turn around, to come back and confront, to give her own special version of "sticks
and stone may break my bones, but cocksuckers like you will never bed me." I
didnt know where things would go from there, so I barreled forward, pushing Gina as
gently as I could toward the door.
Rico Suave in the Nike Shirt
reached an arm toward her and, caught in the way of it, I got slapped on the arm. I
counted myself lucky. Gina was starting to say something, but I kept us moving.
As we exited, Gina with her purse skinny black purse
flapping against her side, he was still following. He stuck his head out of the doorway,
his bare feet loathe to venture out onto the cool cement stairway and yelled again.
"Youre a shitty fuck, too, pendeja!" he
cried in a tone evocative of Late 20th Century Ugly. I cringed at the words and
tightened my hands at Ginas shoulders, again hoping she wouldnt turn to fight
For her part, Gina was keeping her cool. I couldnt
see her face until she finally turned to me. She didnt look shaken or emotional. She
looked calm, if a little angry.
"Thanks, Heather," she said. "He was just
trying to piss me off, you know that, right?"
"Thats what I figured," I said. "Was
he the guy?"
"Yes, that was the guy, puto pendejo," she said.
"Jeez! What was I thinking, Heather?"
"Youre asking me?" I said.
"And Im a great fuck!" she yelled into the
air behind us. We were already in the parking lot near my car and I doubt Mr. Lover could
hear us. Instead, I thought some of the neighbors might have gotten an earful of
Ginas reproductive ad copy.
Inside the car, I turned on the heater. I was a little
cold, and not just because of the temperature. In my mind, even as I was happy Id
semi-rescued her from that asshole, part of me couldnt help but blame Gina for
getting mixed up with a pretty-boy shit like that in the first place. I tried to control
it, to not let her see that I was both disappointed in her and a little angry that
shed put us both in a potentially dangerous situation, all in the name of her
burning thigh sweats.
"Heather?" she asked.
She was looking at me impatiently. Wed been sitting
in the lot for a full minute in silence, my hands gripping the steering wheel. "Are
we going?" she asked.
"Wheres your car?"
"Its at home. Michael drove me here."
"I thought you said your car broke down."
"Your car broke down at the co-op?" I asked.
"If I hadnt said that, would you have come
right away?" Gina asked.
Anger, hot and engorged, flooded my thin veins until I
thought my skin would burst. "So you lied to me? Gina, what the fuck are you doing?
What is wrong with you?"
I sounded shrill and irrational, the shadow-past ghost of
my mother, denying me every teenaged whim Id ever entertained. No concert, no
staying out past midnight, no $350 prom dress. I was the lecturer instead of the lecturee
Gina didnt respond. Instead she stared, looking at
me with her big brown eyes, waiting in calculated form for me to calm down and apologize.
Apologize? Fuck her. She was the one who lied. She was the
one who asked me to pick her up, deceiving me in the process. She was the one whod
cheated on real love with some shithead charter member of the Future Wifebeaters of
America. And I was getting the condescending stare?
I backed out in furious silence, choosing for once not to
ease the tension with a flood of clumsy words.
Halfway back to the co-op, with the garish stretch of East
Riverside behind us, Gina finally spoke.
"Im sorry, Heather. I didnt mean to get
you involved. I needed a ride, thats all."
"Youve got a ride," I said through
clenched teeth. "What you really need is a therapist."
"Heather, dont even fucking start with me
because I am seriously not in the mood for your shit," Gina said, her volume rising
with each word. "I asked for a ride, not your judgment. If thats what
youre offering, you can let me out here."
We were zipping along at 65 miles per hour, northbound on
IH-35, and the thought of kicking her out at that speed was a guilty temptation.
I must have hid my half-smile well because she didnt
notice. Instead, she threw herself into the act of perching an elbow against the passenger
side window and holding up her chin on the palm of her hand.
We arrived at the co-op 10 minutes later. I didnt
look for a space. Instead, I double parked near enough for her to walk.
She got out, slammed the door behind her and moved toward
I began to drive off, preaching a mental "good
riddance," when she spun on a heel and came back toward me. I stopped the car. She
opened the still-unlocked passenger door and sat back inside.
"Heather, what am I doing?" she asked, the
pained expression on her face telling me her question had little to do with me and
everything to do with everything else awry in her life right now.
"I dont know, Gina," I said. "I
dont know why you keep doing things like this."
"I want to hurt myself, I think, to see how much I
can stand. Does that make any sense?" she asked.
"Its called masochism," I answered.
"No, not like that," Gina said. "Its
like Im preparing for the bad things I know are going to happen anyway. Preparing
for pain in the future."
"You dont have to live that way," I said,
meaning it. "Not if you dont want to."
"I dont know what I want, Heather," she
said. "Im sorry. And thank you for picking me up. That guy was an
"That I could observe," I said.
"Goodnight, Heather," Gina said.
She left my car for the second time that night, this time,
her step a little lighter as she made her way back home. The anger in me had evaporated,
instead replaced by something like sadness, or maybe pity.