Author's Note: This is a work of R-rated literary fiction.
Laurel steps up to the podium at the debate tournament in a boxy pencil skirt and a striped button-up. She drags the chalkboard toward her, scooting backward on her kitten heels as the chalkboard scrapes, screeching, across the stage. She scratches a few stars into a constellation on the chalkboard, and draws out her pointer, which she taps twice on the chalk tray, clears her throat, and begins:
The elephant in the room of life is death.
I scurried about unaware of this until the age of 5, at which time I ran solidly into a concrete wall of fact. I cried.
One muggy summer evening, my family and I lolled in the last dying rays of sunlight. Fireflies swarmed about us as we sipped lemonade. My world was small, and clouded with serenity. It was the perfect moment, the kind that should be enveloped in amber, to be discovered years later as a gem, a crystallized token of contentment gone by. I teetered on the brink of naivete, then promptly plunged into the darker waters of wisdom as my parents explained to me that eventually, we must all pass away and meet again someday in the glittering golden streets of Heaven. Promises of reunion in an enticing afterlife were not enough to occlude the tear shed that ensued.
When I am surrounded by death, it is easy to fear. Urban life is steeped in the impersonal. I walk over sidewalks, dead and eternal. There is no blooming, no growth, no regeneration. When I am surrounded by permanence, the regenerative cycle that is life and death becomes foreign.
The idea of “forever” is glorified; it is a goal to attain. Buildings that will stand forever, ships that will never sink- nothing must ever be replaced. If our world lasts forever, why should we die? We cling to the axiom that society gives us. The working man is the world’s savior; he sells his waking hours for minimum wage in order to hoard material goods for the future. Should Death in her artful stealth steal his breath, at least the hard working man has contributed to monetary flow. This paradigm creates our unnatural interest in permanence. It allows for societal growth. It stimulates the economy. It stifles the soul.
Backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, I stepped past the scenery of urban life for a more intimate backstage encounter with living things. In the backwoods, vivacity teems from the ground. The ground is constantly replacing itself as grass blades live, die, and rot; burgeoning from rich soil, they sprout from the carcasses of their fellow grass blades. Nature’s cyclical rhythms pound steadily, in time with each breath I breathe. Plants and animals unassumingly live and die without ceremony, conceiving and becoming the very miracle that is Earth. The inevitability of this cycle is both shocking and prosaic.
I spent twelve days in the Weminuche wilderness in Colorado with close friends and family, surviving solely by what we could carry on our backs. Living in such close proximity to life cycles, I became enamored with the sheer genius of the natural world. Into the forest I carried thirty pounds of food, water, and equipment. I carried out a new awe for nature’s efflorescence and an acceptance of my role in the natural world. I saw death not as a ghastly wraith but as a steady rhythm that allows new life to bloom.
To be a part of this rhythm is a unique privilege. I will become part of something greater when my life someday comes to its natural and bittersweet end; I will be a contributing piece of Nature’s harmony. New life will always begin from the old. This is not to say that life itself is of no value. By coming to peace with the inevitability of its termination, life can be lived with the fullness and vigor that it deserves. Infinitely more euphonious is a symphony than a single note held forever.
Laurel cues a Joni Mitchell track, We are Stardust; We are Golden, on the small stereo that sits at stage left. The track crackles and spills forth into the vast, empty auditorium. She curtsies and exits, to scattered applause.
visuals- neon being bent into the right shapes by an artisan. close up on hands, you never see the artisan’s face. just oozing melting colors and hot glass being formed by skilled hands.
The brightest stars burn out the fastest. I’ll never know if I made the right choice, if I saved her from a supernova of her own making. Everybody’s got some light inside them, it’s theirs to shed on the world. It’s beautiful, really. But sometimes something goes wrong. She just had too much. All that fire just melted her from the inside.
One neon light gets too hot and there is an explosion of some sort.
Hands are revealed to be belonging to Elliot, who is bending neon in a workshop. Other artisans are also busily working in the grungy garage art shop. Her wild curls are tied back from the open flames.
Screen is split- top/bottom, Elliot’s hands working in neon workshop in top screen, Group of kids is watching the city of Los Angeles from Griffith Observatory in the bottom screen. Show long-exposure shot of Los Angeles city streets as they watch. Lights gradually blur together until they cloud the entire cityscape in color. These neon lights begin to blur with the ones in the top screen until the lights obscure the divide between the two scenes and obliterate the neon workshop scene. Sun sets and stars begin to shine as they talk. Halo of light grows brighter and brighter around the kids as they stand still, watching the time-lapse fast motion blur of the city.
(shot of bee hive with bees humming and creating honey in time-lapse, creation of coral over hundreds of years in time-lapse, etc) intermitten with the cityscape. Fast classical music playing. Music fades out as dialogue fades in.
LAUREL GOES TO GRIFFITH WITH THE CLIQUE
Matt is 19, wholesome-ish looking. I just don’t think I could ever date a female body builder. It’s grotesque. I’d like my girlfriend’s biceps to not exceed the weight of your average Volkswagen, thanks.
Alex, 19, has much more effortless style than Matt. Slightly hipster leaning with longer hair and skinnier pants.Yeah, I gotta agree with Matt, they’re pretty scary. Could be Stephen King material.
Mark, 19, has similar style to Alex’s but seems a bit more aggressively counter-culture. probably has a pack of cigarettes in a pocket somewhere. hmm... “Lost at the Buff Ladies Convention”... a novella by Edgar Allen Poe…
Matt, Next movie? Think you guys could write me a good horror script on it?
Bridget, 19, wears a floral miniskirt and a John Deere t-shirt
(rolls eyes). Proof of the closed male mind. I don’t give a shit about a guy’s biceps as long as he’s decently well-read and like, d.t.f.
ASHLEY 19, dresses edgier than the others, more in Mark’s style, and sports an obnoxiously bedazzled neon backpack that she carries her photography equipment in.
(as she photographs). Maybe you’re just a highbrow nymphomaniac.
LAUREL: I’m truly flattered. I guess all the Fitzgerald novels have shaped me in more ways than I realized.
(grins at Bridget and shrugs). We all have our calling in life. Stardom for some, slutdom for Bridget.
Laurel chooses to go look through the telescopes at the stars rather than acknowledge Matt.
Alex: Seriously though Matt, I need a screenplay for my next project. Could you have something written for me by June?
Matt: Sure. What’s the premise?
Alex: I need a short script for a film festival that I’m entering- I can email you details later.
Ashley: Hate to break up the little collaboration sesh, but could you guys pack in your tits and look photogenic for one second? I know that may be difficult for you, Steven...
All turn toward Ashley with their backs to LA now and pose. Mark gives middle finger to the camera.
ASHLEY: (as she walks to telescopes) Dude, stop trying to be me.
MARK: I’m a malleable soul, dollface. Sometimes the charisma of your presence overwhelms my individuality.
LAUREL: (turning back toward city one last time. she has been distracted by it/lost in thought the entire time as the others have conversed). They sure are moving fast down there. It’s kind of beautiful, really. Everyone’s frantically rushing to wherever they think they need to be at the moment. I wonder where all these people came from.
ASHLEY: (looking through telescope to stars, does not bother turning around to comment) vaginas.
MATT: Probably the same kinds of towns we came from. I mean, look at us. We all came here to make it just like them. I mean, I’m just like every other waiter in this city with a script, trying to sell it between courses. But they say this is the place to be.
ASHLEY: Tell me about it. Bristow, Oklahoma? I had to GTFO. Photography was a secondary motive. (lets camera hang down on the strap around her neck as she goes to look through telescopes at stars).
LAUREL: It’s different when you don’t know what you’re here for, though. This city can be pretty intimidating when you’re the only one without big plans.
visuals cut to the car full of people driving downtown through swirl of car traffic and pedestrians traveling to and from work during rush hour
LAUREL: but like, whatever. I’ve never faced an existential crisis that some vodka tonics and drag night at the Neon Palm wouldn’t fix.
(very short clip of friends in crowded gayclub/dancing/ before cutting to visuals of Elliot taking mass transit from work to apartment through the crowded swirl of car traffic and pedestrians who are also travelling to and from work during rush hour, dogs running through street, etc.
Besides. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I DID have a purpose for dragging my ass all the way out here. That night I was still just waiting to meet her. Destinations are relative. Everyone is in constant motion, even if there are stopping points along the way. Journeys are divided into infinite sub-journeys. There are billions of destinations, it just depends on how large of a scale you’re looking at things in. Infinite beginnings, infinite endings.
This particular journey started in cosmic style, of course.
utterly black blackness. blackness begins to boil as the ocean of primordial soup prepares for life. a speck of light appears, burns for a moment, implodes into rapidly expanding universe. Stars are created and sort themselves into galaxies and eventually our sun’s solar system comes into being. zoom in on our planet, where the still-hot boiling ocean breeds life. bacteria and basic life form, followed by evolution pops out humanity in the blink of an eye. Development of human civilization follows. buildings spring out of earth and stack themselves up. macro shots from space show spotches of urban sprawl start to creep their way across the natural landscape. circa 1500-ish things start to get even more detailed and we see actual individuals- Bridget’s distant, distant ancestors.
Okay, more specifically...
Laurel, 18, circa 5’4”, is on the phone in her bedroom, looking over a pile of watercolor drawings. Kristie she whispers, I'm freaking out, and tonight's my last night here. Will you come pick me up?
Kristie: Okay babe, stop being a titwad. Get Austin to pick your ass up and over here. We'll have a party later. I’ve been drunk on spiced wine by myself all day. It’s getting rather unsophisticated.
INT. SCENE- BEDROOM
Elliot, 18, extremely petite, roughly 4’10” is on the phone in her bedroom, which is plastered in handmade drawings, band posters, astronomy photos, quirky mementos of high school, etc. She has impeccable posture. Books line the shelves. Elliot is dressed in a secretarial pencil skirt, child’s athletic t-shirt, and military boots. She walks past the mirror as she talks and pauses for a moment to jab a ring through her nose piercing and smear on some red lipstick as an afterthought. She looks fuckin’ fierce.
It’s my last night in town. Let’s go smoke cigarettes at The Way and pretend we’re cool kids one last time.
ext. scene- Austin's backyard
quick classical music plays over muted visuals. At first we see a nice, white-columned home that sits in the middle of the ghetto. An old but decently-well-kept fountain and Mercedes are out front. We follow the camera around back to see Laurel lounging by a pool with overgrown grass around its edges. She reads Fitzgerald poolside. Her male companion is fully clothed, knitting in a pool chair beside her’s. She pulls off her sweater, sings along the song Austin is playing momentarily while putting out her cigarette, then shrieks as she dives into the pool to swim alone. Classical music cuts out and scene freezes right before she hits the water as she screams, and her scream continues for a few seconds. then silence, as we quickly cut to:
Int. Scene, hard core show
Elliot climbs out of the backseat of a car at a church with three guys and one other girl. The others skulk in, hands in pockets, as Elliot links arms with two of them. Elliot’s smallness is overshadowed by her intense, charismatic presence, she never breaks eye contact with anyone she speaks to. (At first we see the seemingly calm chapel outdoors and then follow the shot inside to see the hormone-infused Angst Fest that is the hardcore show) She lurks in a small room, walls are covered in graffiti. It is a small converted chapel being used for hardcore shows. She puts out her cigarette as the band begins to play and soon everyone is screaming and moshing together in the hot-sweaty-teen filled room.
Visuals are silent, quick classical music plays over the image until the moment when Elliot screams when the band starts playing. Scene freezes, music stops, and Elliot’s scream freezes
Pink Floyd on the Beach
Laurel is roller-skating around campus one evening, when she meets Mark, Wendell, Alex, and Matt. She hasn’t made a lot of friends so far. She smokes marijuana in her USC dorm room, listens to music, and walks around looking at the trees and flowers. She’s starting to write poetry, and she’s very content. Tonight as she skates past the boys, they holler at her and she skates over to see what’s up.
The boys have a car and a guitar, and they know how to talk. They are self-assured without being forceful or cocky. They create a mellow energy amongst themselves, and it’s attractive to Laurel as she considers the possibility of joining them for the evening.
“We’re going out to Santa Monica, to the beach.”
“Yeah? I’ve never been.”
“You should. It’s really chill- you’ll see.”
Laurel stashes her skates in her dorm room and joins the boys in the back of the old forest green BMW. Mark drives them around campus for a little while longer, talking about who else might want to come. He’s thoughtful of the energy around him. Each of the boys is very different, but they seem to connect on a somewhat transcendental, aural plane. They know how to read people. They pick up another girl, Emily- a dark-haired sorority girl who wears a cashmere sweater and boy-cut light-wash denim. She has a gentle feminine energy to her as well, she can keep up with the group’s repartee, and she doesn’t mind the marijuana.
They put on a spacey psych-rock LP and drive out to the beach. The 10 Freeway is a smooth strip of concrete that floats like a ribbon across the so cal landscape. Laurel feels happy and at ease in the boy’s company. To her, they embody her ideal of manhood. They’re like down-to-earth rockstars who can talk like they’re always living in a movie, and they put other people before themselves. They’re generous with their energy, they’re brave, they’re beautiful, and they care for themselves and others. They immediately take on a gentle, omnipresent, boyfriend-y presence in her life.
They park at the beach and walk down to the sand below the dock, where waves, barely visible in the dim moonlight, crash against the shore. They kick off their shoes and fold their legs Indian-style to sit down in a circle. Mark starts to pluck around on his guitar a little, his eyes downcast, and his sandy hair moving a little bit in the breeze. Matt is a bit further off, dragging a piece of driftwood in a line across the sand, just noodling around with a drawing. Laurel lays back down on the sand and watches Mark’s fingers move across the strings, feels the song wash over her, feels the Pacific air kiss her eyes and soothe her mind.
From that night on, they were inseparable.
Laurel and Matt and Laurel and Mark become especially close. Matt is from the South, like her. He’s a spiritual, Southern boy who wants to be a writer. Matt’s eloquence is startling, intoxicating- he can quickly vivisect an individual’s psyche and personal motivations to the core.
He’s the type of guy who will look you in the eye and say,
“You know what your problem is? You’re romanticizing a life you haven’t even lived yet. But you know what else? I think your soul is more beautiful than you can even imagine.”
He speaks quickly and accurately about subjects both grand and mundane, and can locate the kernel of profound truth in everything from the Beauty of the Peach to the Reality of the American Dream. He and Laurel can philosophize for hours, from a shared base of Christianity and a love of Americana at its best. They can listen to Taylor Swift, or the Velvet Underground. Matt’s eyes are sharp, and his tongue is like a knife. He is kind, and he loves women. He and Laurel are close. They connect over their small-town roots, and they are both ambitious and hardworking. They’re both psychologically involved with the cabal in a very intense, complex way. They’re interested in each other, but also share a mutual fascination with Mark, whose moody, charisma creates an energy crux at the center of the group.
Laurel and Mark have similar backgrounds in the underground music scene, and have a grungier personal aesthetic than most of their classmates. They are both shy, despite being very socially adept, and they are often hesitant to meet each other’s gaze. Their mutual understanding is tacit and deep. They have animus and anima in them. They have thick skins and soft hearts, and they have a tension and charisma that gives life to the world around them.
It seems like when they go places together, they create a magnetic energy around them.. People are intrigued by them and repelled by them, attracted to them and entranced by them.
They believe in sincerity. kindness. wit. beauty. bravery.
They are each other’s companions and muses. They know each other deeply, and yet they want more; they can’t get enough.
Laurel thinks, she’s living in a world of beautiful geniuses, and to her, they’re all stars.
Maybe they were trying to maintain the mysticism of exploring new worlds together. They each had intellectual and artistic interests in the more abstract fields of psychology, as well as the history of psychedelic drug usage in the arts communities. But more than that, they were enraptured by each other’s minds. They wanted more.
Laurel and Mark had had a darker history than most of their classmates; Laurel had struggled intermittently with an eating disorder as well as substance abuse problems, and she was still an occasional cigarette smoker. It was obvious that she was striving toward the Good, not just as an abstract concept, or even as a set of rules, but as an all-encompassing Aesthetic- she wanted to be clean-cut, and she wanted to be successful.
(She curtsies, to scattered applause).
“I see it… I see it.”
“It’s the original crystal.”
Laurel straddles Mark’s back on a dormitory bunk, in daisy dukes and a lace bralette. Mark’s flannel shirt is unbuttoned to her waist, and her long auburn hair hangs down in clusters. She is having visions. She holds Mark’s body and feels his energy- warm, masculine, radiant- and she draws on him what she calls the original crystal. It’s interwoven with the original tree form, that branches outward into saturated organic forms, clustering over his heart and radiating outwards.
The images lay out before her, and she traces them. Her aesthetic sensibility is pronounced, and she is sensitive to the ratios of color and form that lay before her. Mark is gentle and kind, warm and masculine without pressing her sexually. They are spiritually and emotionally very intimate. She admires his character deeply and wants to sing his song for everyone to hear. He is gentle and patient, accepting her energy.
Another college girl, Mackenzie, comes through to watch. She smacks her bubblegum. but she doesn’t really get it. She hangs out for a few, and goes back to her room to watch movies. Laurel stays up late making drawings. She feels like she is tapping into an aesthetic vision of Nature that is extraordinarily beautiful, and she wants to express the complex, fragile, and kaleidoscopic nature of the forms that she’s sensitive to right now.
The Gothstagram Girls
The was a clique of girls in their class who were set on getting famous on Instagram by going to all the right clubs, all the right parties, in all the right goth fashions. The gal in charge of this scene was named Becky. Becky would wear black skinny jeans with complex forms of distressing and patching, with lacy stilettos and thick deep violet lipstick on her pouty, voluminous lips. Her unwashed hair hung down in thick strands to her chest, and she often sported a studded choker. Mark and Becky were dating, so Becky and her friends hung around.
Once, Becky and her clique invited Laurel and Emily out to a party on Fraternity Row. Laurel wore daisy dukes and Matt’s flannel shirt tied around her waist over a bikini top, and Emily wore a black mini-dress with her long, dark hair in a ponytail. Becky and her girls met them outside of a dormitory to have mixed drinks and walk over to the Row. Laurel is quiet, watching Becky’s mannerisms, and taking her cues from Emily on how to interact with the girls.
They arrive at the Row, where the boys at the door let them through and hand them Jello shots.
“Hotttttt,” drawls Becky, gesturing toward a boy in a pastel polo. She always talks slowly, with her eyes cast to the side, heavily shadowed in tones of dark blues and almost-blacks, and she always looks to her posse for approval upon making a decree.
“Ughh, I know,” says her friend Clarisse, clutching her arm. “Dyinggg.”
Emily and Laurel walk through the party, soaking in the atmosphere. The floors are carpeted with black trash bags, soaked in vodka and Keystone Light, and Polo-clad boys wrapped in neon glow-sticks clutch the waist of girls dressed in black mini-dresses of every kind. The most popular look is a strapless tube dress that cuts off as close as possible above the nipple and below the butt, and tall stilettos that cage the arch of the foot in complex leather straps. Laurel makes her way to the beer pong table, and sips a Keystone while the boys play pong. An Aviicii track pounds, rattling the plastic palm leaves that adorn the balconies. Emily leaves to find Becky and the girls.
She returns with Becky clutching her arm, and the gaggle of ladies following behind. A muscular, crew-cut, blue-eyed boy in a turquoise polo and sailor’s hat walks beside them, gesturing around the party, introducing them to the other guys.
“Hey. Sick hat,” says Laurel.
“Thanks, babe,” he says with a grin, clutching Becky’s arm.
“Come up for drinks?”
He leads them up to his room, where a boy in a sweatsuit with a Wacka Flocka Flame clock around his neck leans against the bannister of the staircase outside, sipping Jack Daniels from the bottle.
“Sup ladies,” he slurs, his velvet top hat sliding down over his eyes.
The frat boy in blue ushers them into a bedroom that’s decked out with a wooden Jameson brand block, that features the logo over a full cuckoo clock setup. He pours them shots of Jameson and explains to them some of the frat’s recent ideas for parties, and plans for the next few months.
“Uhm, babee-e-e, Self-ieeeeeee,” says Becky, twirling her finger in the air in a slow, languid circle. They cluster up and take a snapshot. Becky’s lips are pooched and saucy; the boy throws the lens a sparkly grin.
Laurel is feeling loose and wild, and is back downstairs getting it on the dancefloor. The room is packed with hundreds of fraternity boys and sorority girls, but instead of engaging, she just slips through their world, a free spirit in the midst of the crowd.
The girls meet up later to walk home.
“I want french frieeessssss,” says Becky.
“Ugh, I know,” says her friend Clarisse. “Jack in the Boxxxx!!”
Becky calls her friend to take them through the drive-in for tacos, milkshakes, and curly fries.
They eat on the floor of Becky’s dorm room. Becky and her girls gushing about boys, their bodies, their insecurities. Laurel sits quietly again, uncomfortable with Becky’s friends. Emily is more reserved as well, and Laurel finds hope and comfort in her presence. The fact that Emily seems to trust the girls makes Laurel really want to give them a chance- but she just can’t really dig their vibe.
She wonders what Mark sees in Becky. Laurel sort of wants to be Mark’s girlfriend, on some level- but she probably wouldn’t really want that if Mark asked her. She is a free spirit, and doesn’t want to be tied down to a relationship right now, but at the same time, she wishes Mark would want her, wishes he would choose her.
She walks back to her room. The stars are blurry and obscured behind a layer of fog, shimmering like a Van Gogh as she winds her way back across the campus to her dorm. In a pair of TOMS, her feet are light, and she dances a little more down the sidewalk, swinging her keys and jumping on rocks and curbs.
Michelle Pfieffer’s Pants
Once, the guys got a hold of Michelle Pfieffer’s pants. One of the girls in Becky’s clique had snagged the jeans at a Hollywood party, or maybe a Teen Vogue party. They ended up in Mark’s closet in the New North dorm, and he would break them out for special occasions. The guys swapped clothes a lot, and pretty much every one of them wore Michelle Pfeiffer’s pants out at some point during those few weeks.
Laurel and Matt Trip at the Lost Kitten Cafe; Laurel Envisions the City of Light
Laurel was sort of the quiet one, but she was always the one that talked when they were on drugs. Laurel, Matt, and Mackenzie met late one afternoon on the 500 Days of Summer hill- also known as ‘Bunker Hill’ to the pre-millennial generations. They sat on the bench, watching twilight glaze the deep blue buildings and tropical bands of color. Matt and Laurel soon took the drugs out of the plastic bag, and swallowed them on the hill. Each trusted the other to give them the right dose.
It takes some time for them to set in, and they go walking around the city. Finally, they take a seat in the corner booth at the Lost Kitten Cafe, where the more significant effects set in. Laurel begins to experience visual hallucinations; the metal surfaces of the cafe start to shimmer and oscillate in waves. Next, she experiences emotional waves that rise up within her. She feels both deeply emotional sensitive to the beauty of the interconnectedness of the city, and to the importance of individual as well as collective exchanges. Once Laurel becomes both emotional and analytic, she speaks quickly and accurately about her experiences and her surroundings. Matt and Mackenzie listen attentively. She gestures toward the man at the door, who exchanges a few words with someone on the street, and enters the warm, luminous interior of the cafe from the cold, dark street. He is given coffee in exchange for currency, and thus performs the most basic act of economic community building. He is now in an economic relationship with the Lost Kitten Cafe. These exchanges loop and build; Laurel sees them in both their past, present, and future iterations as a series of choices that comprise her Present, a series of choices that literally determine the path of the sidewalks that guide people through space, that determine the books they read, their personalities, their very DNA. It’s a stunning whirl of light, which she belongs to deeply. She feels great gratitude for her hosts, who provide them shelter and solace from the outdoors. They are actively engaged in making the city hospitable, and for that she is thankful.
Her feelings for Matt are deeply emotional. They decide to walk through the city again, and she speaks about the intense profundity of being able to share a moment of reflection and friendship in this moment; these exchanges are our reality. By the edge of Pershing square, she looks Matt in the eye, and tells him how much she loves him.
“I love you too, Laurel.” His eyes are warm and kind. He holds her close in a hug for a moment, and they walk off together down the avenue.
Laurel Tries to Explain Crystals to Sean Lennon
“…humankind… is a crystal ship on a turbulent sea. her extraordinary fragility amidst turbulence- but within that exquisite form, luminosity…”
Sean traces her arms with interweaving lines of color with the Magic Markers, like technicolor rivers. He is clothed in suspenders, a thick beard, and possibly a rustic hat.
“We are material poetry…”
“Isn’t that a Doors song?” interjects Sean.
Sean turns up his nose.
“Yeah, I know it- - This is a different metaphor though-- you gotta envision it.”
Sean is not interested.
Laurel snatches her arm back.
She grabs the guys and they leave.
He wasn’t really having it dude.
Laurel is affronted.“I know. Rude!”
Laurel Foresakes the Counter Culture
“There are many realms of existence, and I am BACK IN YOURS,” hollers Laurel as she regains consciousness on the Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica. She removes her neon frat-daddy sunglasses and flings them across the bus. She is, as usual, wearing denim cutoffs and Matt’s flannel over her bikini, and she meanders across the bus to take a seat in Matt’s lap, stroking his hair with her arms wrapped around him. Matt is calm, cool, and collected, and acting very normal. The bus driver stops the bus on Pico.
“You have to get off,” he says, giving them the “take a hike” thumb gesture. Matt grabs their things and ushers Laurel off the bus somewhere west of Culver City. Laurel stands blinking in the sun. Concrete walls rise like desert monuments, and the sun glares, white-hot and blindingly bright. The Big Blue Bus rolls on down the road, without care or regret for its loss passengers. Laurel holds a large sketchpad in her arms, and Matt opens his phone to read transit instructions. Finally, he says,
They set off down the road, occasionally taking breaks to sit in bus-stops, and occupying a window table in a Jamba Juice to charge Matt’s phone. At a certain point, they find themselves seated on a bus stop outside of literally, a burning building. The fire crews outside hose down the building. Laurel is aware that they are in a Crisis Zone, but she is in an analytical mindset where Crisis is a concept rather than a reality, and where Civic Responsibility, as a noble virtue, is a topic that she would like to discuss at length- Now. She admires the bravery of the firefighters, and their dedication to solving the immediate problem of the Fire, to her, is illustrative of the interconnectedness of society as a whole, and the emergence of individuals who have the desire to fill the roles that society requires in a proportion that is equal to the need for those roles to be filled. So, who’s to say whether the emergence of a particular number of firefighter from any randomly selected statistical pool is due to the natural, innate desire of a child to be a hero, or from the need of society to have an exact number of heroes per capita.
She now contemplates the idea of the Hero’s Journey, and concludes that she, and Matt, have ventured far into the unknown.
“We have to walk,” says Matt. “We can’t stay here.”
He is correct, and they continue to walk. They finally walk all the way to the Santa Monica Pier, where they relax and watch the sunset. Laurel is happy and mellow in his company, but she has been thinking deeply about her relationship with Matt, and wonders if they have different motivations for spending time together.
Matt and Laurel walk down the dock with their arms linked. Laurel quietly clutches her large sketchpad. Matt has gentle, mellow energy. He takes them to a Mexican restaurant. They open the menu, and glance over the choices. Laurel is vegetarian. I’ll have a quesadilla, she says. I’ll have tacos, says Matt. The waiter nods, and takes the menus. One thing about Mexican food- they don’t hesitate to elevate cheese- normally relegated to the status of a condiment- into a major dietary staple, says Laurel wryly. Matt smiles. When Matt smiles, the world smiles with him.
They decide to go home. They get lost, and end up walking, again, from west of Culver City back toward downtown LA. The walk goes late into the night, but they are guided back downtown by the glittering crystals of the skyline that beckon them home.
After that day, Laurel began to question her own motivations for her drug usage.
Was she ego tripping?
Was she exploring her consciousness?
Or was she taking drugs for kicks?
She thought of the firemen, heroes among the community, putting their lives on the line for the good of the community, while she wasted the day going on a tour of the city, not even capable of drawing on her day of leisure.
What was her problem?
What was she doing with her life?
She felt unsure, and she chose to forsake the counter culture after that. She experienced a period of social withdrawal, during which she spent time alone in her room, watching Mad Men or studying for school. She went straight. She still hung around with the group, but the questions she was facing about her ego and her drug usage definitely fractured her relationship with the group, and she felt she needed to redirect her energies toward pursuits that she knew to be wholesome and right. She felt that she had been acting pretentious, and succumbing to egotistical folly that was leading her astray. She knew she had to change her ways, and stop leading the group down this road with her.
It was wrong. She realized that. She changed her life.
Laurel’s Changing Relationship With Nature
Laurel sat under the fig tree. The fig tree, which first clothed Adam and Eve after their fall from the garden. It’s knotted and curled, knobbled and burled. Its skin creeps and weeps, seeps from gold sap that runs deep. It’s branches cluster up to form a complexly mosaicked umbrella under which she reclines, in black paint-spattered leggings and a green flannel shirt. In her shirt pocket she has a handful of granola; she was in a hurry this morning, so she swooped a handful of Nature’s Valley from the cafeteria into her shirt pocket to eat later, mid-drawing class. However, she’s become intensely absorbed in apprehending the character of the tree, and she forgets her snack.
The masculinity and feminity of the tree coexist in perfect balance and harmony. It scrolls across her drawing pad in a calligraphic motion that has both ease and precision. The elements of ornamentation are fragile, yet absolutely free. Living, in motion- yet perfectly choreographed, and Beautiful in form, line, and proportion. As she works, she develops ever-greater sensitivity to the pressure and ease with which she forms lines, the rhythm with which she creates fine detail, the oomph and substantive character of the wood’s burls.
Page after page is covered in these musical renderings of the tree.
Laurel loses her portfolio, and the drawings disappear forever.
As time goes by, Laurel becomes more and more absorbed in the intellectual realm of academia and the materiality of her paints in the studio. She spends less and less time with the tree, but her relationship with Nature is still strong; she becomes a staunch environmentalist and makes a point of carrying a reusable mug around for coffee.
But what really draws her away from her time spent drawing, is her movie career- and her subsequent relationship with Reed, a boy she meets the summer after her freshman year.