I was living in a group home in Pacific Palisades. He was a friend of my brother’s and had accidentally fallen in love with me. I remember a night when we lay side by side in the dark, he talking about his mother’s death and me, the loss of my wild crazy mother. Both of us talking, tears secretly rolling down our cheeks. At midnight I said, “It’s my birthday. This is my first birthday without my mom.” Then, in the pouring rain, he drove me to go buy tampons. I sat in his 1976 Volare. He ran up to the 7-11 window, tapped on the glass, and held up two different tampon boxes. He was big and Puerto Rican and overly pierced and his laugh was awkward but something told me that with all of his giant features and doofiness he really did love me.
He had sent me a letter, telling me so. As a teenager I was constantly in fear of being forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind. Living in a group home was like being grounded for my entire adolescence. By that point I had lived in several group homes. My mother had lost custody of me for being abusive. She was completely out of her tree. I was moved constantly around because it was hard to find a match with a foster family. I didn’t drive. I wasn’t allowed due to licensing restrictions in foster care. And besides, where would I get the money for a car?
And this friend, he wrote me a letter telling me that he thought of me often, and that I was loved. He made a special effort to go to my high school, on the other side of town, and tag his name on the administration building. I remember walking into the building one morning and seeing the black drippy spray paint. His nickname on the brick facade. It was a secret nod to let me know he was thinking about me. I kept his letter folded in my wallet for a long time, until it wore thin and ripped in the creases, little flakes of white rolling off.
Eventually, though, we lost touch. He got into drugs. Speed was his favorite. I went on to college. He came to visit me once because he had a coupon: dinner for two at Chili’s. We sat in the booth and laughed at our fajitas, laughed at the fact that we were so grown up, and so broke. After dinner, he dropped me off and drove home. He couldn’t stay the night at my place because I had a down comforter and he was allergic. He would wheeze around cats or feather stuffed comforters. He was in a constant state of wheezing.
I kept his letter in my wallet.
I only saw him once or twice after that. Usually around the holidays. And if I didn’t see him, I would hear about him through friends. He rode around town on a special concoction he had made, two bike frames welded together. He went by the name ‘Captain Welfare.’
The last time I remember seeing the letter I had just moved to New York. This was years ago. I was feeling completely alone and pulled it out of my wallet and read it to make myself feel better. The letter instructed me to always hold on to it, so that I could know, no matter where I was, that I was loved. I remember he also told me that I was beautiful. And he recounted the first time we met.
And sometime after that, I lost the letter. I don’t know how. I don’t know where.
I remember the day the phone rang. I picked up. And heard the terrible news. The news that my friend had died, and that nobody really knew why. I assumed it had something to do with drugs, or maybe it was his asthma, or maybe both.
I think of him now, and I remember us when we were young, just kids, lying in the grass in my friend’s backyard, looking out at the hills, smoking pot. This was before the group homes. I pointed out at the hills. “You ever want to go up there and just roll down?” I said.
He laughed. We were high.
“No, seriously,” I said. “I want to go up to those mountains and lie on my side and roll down.”
We turned and looked at one another. Teeth chattering. It was cold outside. He had a hoodie on and was rocking back and forth. He told me I was crazy. I asked him if he would go with me. I had a blanket wrapped around me. He wrapped it tighter.
And told me yes.