“No one will take you seriously until you have a few scars, girl.” opined my oldest friend. I was about 20 years old, and a human disaster zone. He was my boss at one of the few mundane jobs I ever held down for more than two minutes. I was not built for office work, or the kind of careers that more easily settled people nurture like lilies or wasabi roots. I never could keep the flower alive, never keep the river running. The routine of getting up, seeing the same people every day, having to be organized and cope with the boredom, none of it suited me. I just couldn’t do it. He was more interested in my writing, my doomed novels that I would write and then burn or trash and start again, than in my performance doing the filing and photocopying. Collating documents, hundreds of pages long made me want to slice my wrists, or at least eat enough diazepam that the prospect of it didn’t reduce me to a screaming, head against the wall banging feral desperado.
I probably should have trained as an ambulance driver, a firewoman, a farmer, a race car driver. Something with more adrenaline and less bullshit ‘blue sky thinking’ neurolinguistic programming devotion to the business of making money from money. My colleagues were the usual suspects. I had a degree by this time, was wildly over-qualified for making the tea and sending faxes. Standing on the roof, smoking some weed, sharing the view with a long haired guy who looked more suited to drumming for Judas Priest than handling claims in an insurance company, the sleeve on my shirt had ridden up slightly. He was boring me witless telling me how sodium laurel sulphate was poison and he didn’t wash his hair any more, “Feel it! It is lovely and soft! Not washed it for 8 months now!” I recoiled in horror. He looked down at my wrist. I had taken a small razorblade and been running along my skin, separating skin from flesh. It was the only way I had to cope with being clean. I was not able to be clean at that age. I was too hurt, too disturbed. Too desperate. Holding down that job, coping with being spoken to as if I was some airhead bimbo who was only fit to copy reports, and even then somehow managed to always mess them up. Pages missing, pages out of order, pages upside down. I was incapable of concentrating on mundanity. Instead I was desperate for the day to finish and to get off home – a tiny apartment I shared with one other person – lock myself in my room and get high.
During the week, in my failing attempt to be a functional addict, I would hurt myself, doing the barest minimum I needed to stay well enough to be out and about. The weekends were mine. It was a delicate balance of doing enough, and not overestimating my tolerance. Staring in the long mirror that was nailed to my bedroom door, a face stared back that I barely recognized. I was miserable. Building up scar tissue, blood seeping through and sticking my clothes stiffly to my wounds and skin, thin white lines running from the crook of my arms to my wrists where veins have given up the ghost and zipped down in their dying protestations against my mistreatment. I was such a user. Knots of scar tissue on my ankles, one deep burn from a rock that dislodged and burnt through my teeshirt, a scar from an abcess pockmarking my collarbone, my body resembled a map, instead of a pristine plain.
It was a Sunday. Monday my housemate found me in the bathtub naked and unconscious. Tuesday I packed a few things and left. Wednesday I was on the street. Thursday I was turning tricks again. The scar tissue, shiny and pulling, pink and purple was holding me back. There is no give in scar tissue, no elasticity. It snaps back to how it healed, as deformed and weak as that may be. Scars on my belly, scars on my heart, scars on my arms. Scars. No one took me seriously, scars or no. What do old men know anyway?
Old men who work in offices don’t know about the rain, or the storms, or the road, or the parking lots of the neon lights and the dancing clowns outside the car sales lot. they don’t know about the clipper ships that take sailors to ancient China, or the Morrocan haze that incense-sweet takes the sharpness of the disappointments and mundanity of the days. Oh for that simple quiet comradeship! Oh for a bottle, and a bag, a tab and a smile. Oh for a squeeze of the hand, and the ring of the strings! These old men don’t understand about the warm flood of desire for the way Juliet smiled lost but seeking, or the way a copy of Rimbaud is a way of advertising to others a secret code that says ‘talk to me, we might have a deeper understanding’… these understandings that chase from occult bookstores to park greens, train stations to brownstones in Chelsea, from Japanese volcanos to San Franciscan streets. I feel like I am haunting this building, a ghost between the sheets of the first bed I have owned in twenty something years. I slept on the couch or a box spring in Tokyo, or other people’s bed that they have sweated and fucked on, pissed in and dropped tea over. This bed is all mine. This season is for me. So why do I not feel real? Why do I feel as if I am floating instead of inhabiting? Scar tissue healed badly, ready to open up and leech poison or blood? A mental disconnect from success?
The scar tissue sends me crazy. It makes me want to get out there and walk the early evening streets, breathing the air and feeing free. The map on my skin, drawn in thin pinks and whites shows me the way to the past, how I got to this present, but gives me no clues about the path ahead. It doesn’t lie in razorblades and U100s, it isn’t in the scapel or the wounds, or the damage or the pain. It might be in the pain. Write it out. It is all I know how to do.
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers sing Scar Tissue. The riff is simple, lighter on the funk than a lot of their oeuvre, plucked on the B and the D strings, moving up and down the fretboard in a repetition of innocent, plaintive beauty. Anthony K sings about wishing a girl could see his scars. Scars and pain are isolating – who wants to look at marred, the ugly beauty of it all? Who wants to confront pain and suffering and damage? “With the bird I’ll this lonely view”, the lyrics pin down the soaring perfection of John Frusciante’s guitar, underpinned by Flea’s bass that cannot hide it’s tendency towards the funk and the wiggle. Scars are sexy, “lick your heart and taste your health” kinda sexy. Red hot blooded desire leaves marks that cannot be erased. The “blood loss” in the bathroom stalls, shooting blood at the flies that gather to feast on the sweet corruption of the flesh and soul, waving goodbye to childhood – the ma and pa whose hearts break to see their ‘southern girl in a push up bra” leave to get so high that she can only share this ‘lonely view’ with the birds on the skyway. Anthony promises he will make it to the moon, even if he ‘has to crawl’. I read somewhere that Kiedis shoots ozone now instead of junk. I avoided the whole hep disaster somehow – at least as far as I know. To be frank I don’t want to know if it is sitting dormant in my body waiting to scar my liver and take me down the river Styx. I have enough scar tissue, as does Anthony. For every scar, for every little girl lost in the bathroom stalls of the road and the highway, there is a rock star who can afford a nurse to come along with an Italian glass syringe and scratch the poison I. V. itch.
“Step outside, but not to brawl” drawls Kiedis. I ain’t fighting either. Not with the boys that open their Challenger doors to girls with scars crisis crossing their body. The worst scars I have weren’t done by me. My scars are fine spider webs of marks here and there. The scars left by Charming are thick and ugly slashes. People try and persuade me they are beautiful. They are ugly. My survival is beautiful. After all only someone who has made it, kissed the Kingdom full on the lips and and lived to tell the tall; laughed and breathed and healed can form the keloids of survival, and that living is the thing of beauty.
The Californian highway view of the music video, the high plains scrub, the dry and desiccated moonscape, the quality of the western light as it plays on the bashed up boys, bandaged and battered invokes the magic of the highway. The scrap yards and campgrounds, the roads that go on forever, the blue skies and the heat that fades as the day peters out, bringing relief from the oppression of summer days. In these half light hours of California, the dusty blackened fading hours of a road run, a drug run, a smokey stoned, drunk and opiated car journey, head lolling to one side, pressing against the window as a thin trail of a breeze cools your mind and promises comfort and darkness…and the wheels that turn and the perfect ‘out there’ road trip coffee and diner, truck stop and waitresses that plush and lush, healthy and happy know nothing about scar tissue and giggle because it is not the women that flirt with them usually. What I am past now, I used to be shamelessly passion filled and full of longing for. Now I long for the road, and the wold birds and the heat and the black top and the winding roads that push out into the meat of this country away from the boney scaffolding of it’s western coastline.
It is out there waiting. Scar tissue baby. Always drawing maps showing the route away from home.