San Dimas Summers or Why Richard Ramirez Doesn’t Scare Me

by Heather Hein

it was the spray starch that took me back. i had to think about it for a moment.
what used to be the department store perfume of legal secretaries is now captured in my can of spray starch.
i remember her eyebrows were too thin. they matched her lips. her husband, i think his name John. and a daughter who didn’t live there. a son who was away at camp.
me. my mom. the cat. and suitcases. my childhood hastily catalogued into U-haul boxes.
they were good friends to let us come there and stay. were we grateful? i’m sure we must have been. but i don’t have a sense memory that brings me back to gratitude.
i remember heat. Southern California, San Fernando Valley heat.
our windows were closed at night. we weren’t allowed to run the air conditioning.
my mom sobbed into the pillow of the bed we shared. i turned my back to her and tried to find pockets of air.
Richard Ramirez was out there. people laid awake in their beds at night listening. waiting. he raped and robbed and decapitated and murdered. i hardly noticed. i just wanted the window open.
i remember solitude. teaching myself how to bake bread. teaching myself how to skateboard so i could get to the tennis courts at the bottom of the hill. i taught myself that bloody knees weren’t worth crying over.
a bag of tennis balls and a racket were cheap therapy. every ball had his face on it.
i scavenged quarters for the $2.00 discount theater so i could see the same movie for the 14th time. it was air conditioned and dark. i could catch up on sleep. Richard Ramirez didn’t go to the movies.
i watched a lot of MTV. it was cool to like Depeche Mode. i wasn’t. i didn’t.
the boy came home from camp. i knew him from his room. i would go in there when no one was home. i knew where his dirty magazines were. sometimes i wore his board shorts. they smelled like Zog’s Sex Wax. they smelled like teenage California.
i wanted a friend. maybe if i’d shown him my tits. i didn’t know their influence yet. i didn’t know that i was a burgeoning statistic.

i see my mother in pictures and i don’t remember her. she was there with me. holding my hand. signing my school papers. but i have no memory of her before that summer. i feel sad. maybe i would have liked her. maybe i would have wanted to be near her. instead i’m left with this taste of rust and salt.

i remember not wanting to be alone. i remember wanting to be asked so i could answer. i remember heat and sweat and anger. i remember wanting to be scared of Richard Ramirez. it would have been something. it would have been more than this.

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