Garbage Man

Who are you? I heard you singing. Even today, 14 years later, the strange tone of his ghostly voice still streaks across my mind. But this isn’t your everyday love letter. Come with me. Seattle. 1996. Within wet backyards, life was reckless and wild.

Who are you? I heard you singing.

Even today, 14 years later, the strange tone of his ghostly voice still streaks across my mind. But this isn’t your everyday love letter.

Come with me. Seattle. 1996. Within wet backyards, life was reckless and wild. My home was a bunk bed at best. Picking up dirty dimes, I played the streets, begged and barely made it. When tired, my bony ass stuck to the sewer grates like gum.

Who are you? I heard you singing.

That was the first thing Garbage Man said to me. I called him that because he wore a necklace that read “garbage.” We were both new at the hostel. That night, the rain came down hard. On the top steps out front, dripping, we shook hands. Everywhere, starving musicians hand-rolled drums and drank. Soon, Garbage and I were attached. Attached by the streets and our makeshift home. Many around us were sick. We were all in the vapor zone, nearly made of smoke. We were heartbroken, addicted, smothered in fog, dodging bird shit.

Just a skinny criminal facing a lost girl, every day, Garbage and I found each other, sharing food and smokes. We played guitars in my room or his. We drank, we smoked weed. We shared the same birthday, and his brown eyes were the largest around. Poe eyes. At times, black, fierce. He hated his jailhouse tattoo. His fingers, eyes, mouth, his look — they were gorgeous. Nothing else about him was gorgeous. Evenings, he was fast, jerky. Mornings, he was slow, shaky, slow. He was a smooth talker, and I wanted to trust him. But something violent lurked inside his eyes. And a thick secret hung between us — the heavy, shadowy habits, the booze and drugs we couldn’t shake.

But, daily, I looked for him. And, daily, from his window, he called my name.

Then one night he took me out to eat, and everything changed.

Garbage said, “Order something. I got cash.”

“I thought you liked skinny girls,” I said. Desperation seeped from my pores. I hadn’t faced my past, my alcoholism, my raging depression. I wanted to be whatever he wanted me to be. How I wanted him to kiss me, to fill up my holes.

He rolled his eyes, stating, “Christine.” My name bled out from his throat like the last word in a melodic song. Final.

We hit a Rock show at The Showbox. Drunk, I lost Garbage. Then I found him: He was sitting on top of a speaker, listening, looking mean. Maybe he was remembering jail or his ex-girlfriend. His black-eyed face was hard to read.

I climbed up next to him, putting my arm around him. We rarely touched. Only by accident. I knew that wall was there, but I felt some liquid courage.

“Don’t,” he said, pushing my arm away, staring at me with furious, black eyes. Then he looked terrified, as if trying to calm down. He stared at his skate shoes, kicking the speaker hard.

“Why are you so afraid to be touched?” I slurred.

“Just let me watch the show,” he said quietly.

“I will,” I said, hopping down, heading for the door.

He followed after. “Are you leaving? Christine.”

I left him stranded there. I had his book bag, wallet and keys.

The next morning, I was half-sleeping when Garbage woke me, yelling, “You know why I'm here!” Quickly, he found his book bag, rustling through it, making sure I hadn’t stolen anything.

I would’ve done the same thing, but I was still pissed. “What the fuck? You think I stole from you?” I yelled, high-pitched.

“I just always check,” he said in a forced, soft tone, nearly singing.

I followed him to the front steps of the hostel.

“I can’t talk about this right now,” he said. “I can’t.” At times, he was damn cold. But that day, man, he was shaking. “No fights,” he said. “Christine. I can’t take fights.”

Then I realized that he was protecting me from his fury, the world of misdirected hate that wanted to erupt from his body. Even then, in his odd way, he was watching out for me as a brother would.

I wanted to grab his T-shirt, keeping him posed at the top of the hill forever. I knew that after months of searching for leftovers, choking up lost Dads, Moms, loves, leaking out prisons, consuming whatever garbage we found, I knew that he would disappear, rolling down the hill on his skateboard, silently slipping downtown.

I never saw him again.

As they say, like attracts like. I was afraid to be touched, too, so I chose to hang out with people who were as rough as gravel. I blamed it all on him, but I was the drunk who left him stranded. I still remember those days of loss, addiction and the ever-present, corrosive thread of fear. But I also remember the way Garbage played joke songs on his guitar, making my tears turn to laughter. Together, nightly, we watched the Space Needle elevator. We could count on the risings and fallings.

He was a slick, lone train with a black and blue heart. He gave people one shot. A sharp thief, untouchable, he was the coolest, loaded bullet. But with him, I always felt so safe.

Garbage Man, maybe we never held hands. No, we weren’t anything close to sweet. But in your way, the way that I needed right then, you helped me stay alive, and for that, I still love you.

Who are you? I heard you singing.

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