Chapter Thirty-Four: Reseda
Was I dead?
No, I could feel my eyelids flutter. The cotton sheet against my leg. A needle in my arm. Did someone stick a tube up my dick?
I felt a warm touch on my hand. I turned towards that touch and opened my eyes. It took me a moment to focus until I saw deep-set pale blue eyes.
That’s what I thought I said, but it sounded more like “Puh?”
She smiled wide, but her lower lip quivered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Are you all right?”
That Vietnamese accent. Ngoc was standing there. So was Kishana and Fatima. And Mrs. Cimino.
“Thank God you’re OK.”
I turned to the other side and saw Reza standing there.
“And Magdalena asked me to tell you she’s doing OK. She had a fall, but she’s doing better.”
I turned my head forward and looked at the tiles on the ceiling. All the people I hurt. And yet, they were all there for me. I wanted to tell them how sorry I was. But I all I could do is cry. The tears streamed down my cheeks. My mouth only formed sorrowful moans. The moans and tears seemed to go forever. And when my eyes had stop stinging enough to see, I could look at their expressions, the tears they wiped from the eyes and faces. It was if I already told them. And they already accepted.
I looked at the front of the bed. Dad was standing there.
Dylan looked much different from the last time I saw him. He looked thinner but more muscular. He shaved off that scraggly goatee he tried to grow when he got back from military school. I was glad that he still took good care of his teeth.
I looked at the people who surrounded his bed. They weren’t the type of people I usually hung around. It wasn’t just because they were of different ethnicities. I hung around people of different ethnicities in Orange County too, but they were mostly the same type of person. They upgraded their smartphones every year, leased new cars every few years, complained about the yields on their portfolios, and chose between Costa Rica or Tahiti for vacation. I felt out-of-place with them because I couldn’t keep up financially.
Dylan’s friends didn’t seem like that. They seemed like humble people with humble jobs. They certainly were humble enough to reach out to him when he was homeless and sleeping in his car. The people I knew wouldn’t do that. I don’t think I would.
And this young woman, “Puh” he called her? The one in the short skirt and form-fitting blouse? The one I saw in the old blue Hyundai? Were she and Dylan in love? They must have been, judging by the way she wept in her car and the wide smile when he opened his eyes. If Dylan had a relationship with a girl, I did not know about it. He certainly never told me. Teresa would sharply insist that he was straight, as if I were supposed to be ashamed if he were gay.
A heavy sadness settled onto my shoulders. I realized how much I didn’t know about my own son. He might as well have been in Reseda the whole time, even when we were sitting in the same room in Orange County.
But here we were, in a hospital room 75 miles away from home, looking at each other face-to-face. I had a second chance to reconnect with my son, to be the father I should have been. A second chance a bullet almost took away.
I should say something more, but I had so much to say and didn’t know where to start. Dylan was still coming out of anesthesia. He wouldn’t hear me anyway.
The African American woman in a dress shirt, slacks, and a name badge sensed my awkwardness. She patted me on the shoulder.
“We should let him rest. I’m sure you’ll be able to talk to him tomorrow.”
The Middle Eastern man by the side of Dylan’s bed smiled. “You look like you could use something to eat.”
We went to this Mexican restaurant not far from the abandoned theater called Mamá Frieda. I had Mexican food plenty of times, but it was nothing like Mamá Frieda. It was kosher Mexican food. I didn’t think such a thing existed. It was the best Mexican food I ever had.
I got to know the people who surrounded Dylan’s hospital bed. Most of them came from the store where Dylan worked. Pearl, which was the name of that young woman, she worked there too. I didn’t recall Dylan having a job before. I listened to their interlocking stories about Dylan’s time in Reseda. They spent a month with him, but they knew more about him than I did in 18 years.
“You must be Dylan’s father.” A female voice with a heavy accented slur came from behind me.
I turned my head. A woman in her fifties supported herself with a cane. She had a cast on her wrist and an abrasion on her right cheek.
“Magdalena?” I assumed she was the woman who had a fall. I could tell from her face that she had a stroke. She made an exceptional recovery just being able to speak and walk.
She smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Your son is a good boy.”
I blinked with shock. Of all the things Teresa and I ever said to or about Dylan, the word “good” never came up. “Troubled,” “difficult,” “struggling,” and a few Teresa said that no parent should ever say about their own child. These people in Reseda knew things about Dylan I didn’t know and saw things in him I didn’t see.
“Tha--thanks.” I stumbled as I choked back a tear.
The faces around the table fixed their eyes on me, encouraging me to let my feelings out. How could I? How could pour out my soul to people I just met? If I could, what would I say? Where would I start?
Pearl turned to Ngoc and whispered something. He took a cell phone, which looked like an old flip phone, and handed it to her. She opened it and then turned to me. “Do you have a place to stay?”
I followed Pearl’s blue Hyundai down Reseda Boulevard, one of the main streets. It was like the other streets I had seen so far in this part of LA with old buildings that had been repainted and repurposed. Yet, Reseda seemed different. Maybe it was the way the streetlights lit up the boulevard. Or maybe the way I was seeing it was different.
I thought about my office building back in Lake Forest. It was probably considered chic when it was built in the seventies, but it became dated and rundown to the point that some said it was hurting my practice. I couldn’t afford to move elsewhere, so I stuck it out in that building until they put on a new coat of paint and changed the carpet. It seemed that way in Reseda. People were too proud to move or unable to go elsewhere, so they made the most of what they had. They didn’t go on a pointless chase for the new, only to discover that it too someday will become worn-out and out-of-style.
She had stopped at a traffic light. It was some street called Vanowen. I noticed something unusual on the back of her car, some outlines from a vinyl sticker that had been removed. Wasn’t that the ET from El Toro High School?
The light changed, the tail lights on her Hyundai dimmed, and we continued on our way.
I had so many questions I had to ask Dylan. So many things I didn’t know about him. But I had questions I had to ask myself too. How do I connect with him after all the years we hadn’t? What kind of relationship could we have? I was given a second chance with him. I can’t waste it like all the other chances I had before.
Pearl turned right on a street called Victory. I turned right as well. We went past a small strip mall on the corner and then turned into another street called Amigo.
We entered a neighborhood that reminded me of the one in Lake Forest where I spent my teenage years. Ranch-style houses with stucco walls and wood trim. Green lawns and tall, mature trees. Concrete driveways with basketball hoops over the garage door. The houses were further apart, had lower rooflines, and older styling, but it felt, in a way, like home.
She pulled into a driveway of a house on the right. I parked on the street next to it. At first, I felt a little out-of-place because I thought I was the only one with a new luxury car. I then noticed the Mercedes Benz across the street, and I didn’t feel I stuck out too much.
Pearl parked her car and walked over to mine. She looked it over and then looked at me.
“You’re homeless too, aren’t you?”
I had forgotten about the pile of clothing in the back. I should have put the tonneau cover over it. But in Reseda, I couldn’t have any secrets.
I exhaled softly. “I just broke up with my girlfriend.”
Pearl continued looking at me. “So, women scare you too.”
“Just a few.”
She nodded. “You can get your things later. Please come with me.”
I followed Pearl into her house. We stepped into the entryway, which was a small space between the door and a partition separating the dining room. A walkway with dark tan carpet led to the kitchen on one end and the living room and a door to other rooms on the other. The house looked smaller than Rachel’s house, but not much smaller than the one where I grew up in Lake Forest.
“Mom, he’s here.”
The door at the end of the walkway opened. I shuddered as the woman walked through. She wore a pink floral bandana around her head, just like the one Mom wore. She walked with a cane, but at a good stride. I felt relieved. At that point of Mom’s chemotherapy, she had to use a wheelchair.
Pearl met her mom halfway. I walked over them.
Pearl introduced us. “Mom, this is Dylan’s dad. This is my mother, Hannah.”
She reached out for my hand to shake. She gave a complete grip, but not a strong one. The chemotherapy still weakened her. As I looked at her face, she seemed somewhat familiar, like I had seen her somewhere before.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister...”
I had to correct her. “Oliver. Please call me Oliver.”
She smiled. “Oliver.”
Hannah spoke with a shortness of breath. She definitely had an accent. It was hard to place it, but it sounded Eastern European. She definitely looked like someone I had seen before.
“We can sit down, if you like.” I knew she was having some trouble standing.
She nodded. I walked around the tan corduroy love seat. She nodded to Pearl. Pearl stepped to her side and supported her as she walked to the sofa across from the love seat.
I started feeling uneasy again. Mom needed help to do the smallest things towards the end. I thought about moving back to help her. Things weren’t going well between Teresa and me at the time, so I wouldn’t have minded helping Mom just to get away from her. But I worried about what it would mean for our marriage if I did. In the end, I wound up losing both Mom and my marriage.
But I couldn’t think about my past as I was watched Pearl help Hannah onto the sofa. What was Pearl thinking? How was she coping? Especially if she had feelings for Dylan.
She was about to sit down too. But Hannah held up her hand.
“We can set up a bed for Oliver in the den. Could you please get it ready?”
Pearl nodded. She seemed to stiffen as stepped away from the sofa.
“This must be hard for her,” I said.
Hannah nodded. “I hated to put her in this situation.”
“I know. I know how hard cancer is on the whole family.”
“My mother did. I lost her to pancreatic cancer.”
“I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” she said. “My prognosis was unclear for a while, but doctors are feeling more optimistic.”
She looked away for a moment. “You haven’t seen your son in a while, have you?”
She turned back to me and studied me with her blue eyes.
“You regret that. I can tell.”
My lips parted, but I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I was going to break down. She seemed to notice, because she leaned closer to me.
I took a deep breath. “His mother took custody after...” I cleared my throat. “I didn’t know he was -- I mean, if I had known he was -- I would have...”
“It’s all right, Oliver. You don’t have to be ashamed.”
I exhaled hard. I could hear a quiver. I exhaled hard again to make it go away.
She leaned closer to me and looked into my eyes. “Your son is a good person, Oliver. But good people can lose their way.”
I looked away and nodded.
Hannah put her hand on my shoulder. “I imagine this has been a rough day for you. You should get some rest.”
Except I couldn’t sleep. I just stared at the popcorn ceiling, the shadows deepened by the faint light from the slightly parted drapes. The air mattress that Pearl provided was comfortable enough, certainly more comfortable than sleeping in my Lexus. The hard part was sleeping alone.
I never slept alone. When I wasn’t with Teresa or Rachel, I had Grandma Dinah and Dad. Or Mom and Maury. There was always some dark memory, some horrible thing that happened, some argument with words that could never be taken back, someone dying.
That night, only silence.
All the times I tried to forget. All the times I tried to drive away those horrible memories. But in the silence, I wanted them to come. I wanted to feel something, hear something. Even those hateful voices that have pricked at me since childhood. I needed their company.
But there was silence. Only silence.
What was it about Reseda that kept the voices and memories away? Was it because it was far from home, far removed from the reminders I saw every day while driving to work? Away from the house where we lived in fear of Grandma Dinah? Away from El Toro High School where I felt isolated and alone, and no amount of straight As and awards were ever enough? There was that one time in the eleventh grade...
I could remember nothing. There was only silence.
What was it about this strange place, a place familiar and unfamiliar, that blocked my memories?
These people took Dylan into their arms when his mother and Steven cast him out. They connected with him when I failed to do so. They forgave him no matter what he did. They saw the good in him we failed to see. They loved him...
The silence was broken. Broken by my sobs.
I couldn’t make myself stop. And I didn’t want to. I cried about everything. I cried the tears I didn’t cry at Dad’s funeral. And Maury’s. And Mom’s. I cried all those tears I had been afraid to shed for years. I cried because I lost my shame about crying. Somehow, Reseda made it OK for me to cry, just as they allowed Dylan to cry. I wasn’t going to stop until all those decades of pain gushed out my tear ducts.
I sat up with a start. The light that came through the windows seemed brighter. I rushed to a small table where I set my iPhone. It was 8:30 in the morning.
I slipped on my jeans and a t-shirt I’d been wearing since I left Rachel’s house. I opened the door. Pearl stood on the other side.
“The hospital called. Dylan’s awake.”
I nodded. “I’ll get ready.”
“Your clothes are still in your car. Do you want me to get them?”
“Thanks, but I’ll get them.”
I smiled and stepped away from the door. Pearl stood in place.
“Did your crying heal you?”
She asked the most interesting questions. I had to think about that one for a moment.
“It’s a start.”