I learned to snap into attention at the slightest call—to solve the immediate problem—by remaining calm—always untouched by the blasts the wind blew into my face. Even when my life was torn up by the roots, as it was throughout my entire childhood, traveling all over the world with my 2 sisters and my beautiful, loving, and crazy mother, some hard place sustained me—some granite stone sunk deep down in my soul weighed me down.
Nothing can break my faith in my belief that life is a strange, mysterious, and beautiful place. A gift.
But life is not for everyone.
Karin Aradi had been molested by her own father. Along with her 2 exquisitely beautiful sisters. She was damaged beyond repair. The most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. She was vain. So sure of her beauty. And so unsure of everything else.
Karin and I once sat on Michael Bari’s couch and compared our legs. We were both wearing short skirts and high heels. She stretched her legs out—and I stretched out mine. Side by side. To compare. We turned our legs--pointed our toes down into a curve--stretched them from the inside—like dancers do. They were the same length—our legs—but hers were cut from marble. Hard, beautiful, elegant lines that wrapped around each muscle in a way to say—god has been here—somewhere here! LOOK! Perfect.
I knew Karin’s history form Erica Clarke. Erica was a friend of Karin’s family—they were all from the rich Oakland hills: Belaire. Karin had been molested by her father from the age of 9 on up. By the time her mother had stopped it—it was too late—for any of her girls.
Karin had a baby. When she was 21. From her punk rocker guitar playing boyfriend. And she struggled to keep it. And she struggled to keep her faith. Will love win out? Or will the need to silence the terrible noise inside your skull prevail.
With Karin the sound must have been deafening.
I got to know Karin from going up to score and seeing her there—in the apartment where I used to live—up at Michael’s Bari’s. She would sometimes be in the kitchen microwaving up some frozen food. She rarely had a thing to say. After a few visits, I began to notice that Michael had stopped folding their bed back up in the living room. I would sometimes see Karin eerily stretched out next to Michael on that bed. Her red thick hair strewn into weeds against the white sheets. Michael. Oblivious. Listening to his radio. In the corner of the room.
Michael after all had a sweet deal. He had an old girlfriend that had a sugar daddy—Chinese man—wealthy—owned many buildings downtown—and this man allowed Michael to stash his dope in a “depository” of sorts. Tucked up somewhere in a safe house about one mile from where the apartment was. All that dope. Even though this old girlfriend’s Chinese sugar daddy had bought her a car and put her up in a fine apartment, was even sending her school, she remained loyal to Michael. Even after Karin started to stay there.
One day I called Michael Bari up and asked him to get me well. I broke my rule. I had done some cocaine the night before and I was a mess. I needed to get straight. So I could take a shower—so I could comb my hair—so I could put make up on skillfully—on my face. So I could look at my face. In the mirror. And prepare for the horror of turning tricks. The act. Which also required skill. And resolve. Sometimes I would stare at my beautiful face in the mirror and make myself into a stone. Just to do it. It required imagination. This work.
“Michael—can you do me a fro..”
“Come on over heah….” He muffled into the receiver.
“Better come ouuahn now, though!”
“Thank you Michael. Thank you.”
When I arrived Dickey answered the door. His runner. His bulky body blocked my way.
“I gave Dickey a look like “Don’t fuck with me asshole and I’ll help you”.
He stepped aside.
“Where is he?”
“In there.” He motioned to the bedroom—the same bedroom where I used to sleep.
Dickey pulled me aside and started to whisper.
“He’s got a ton of dope on him and he keeps losing it! I don’t know where he put it! He’s out of his mind. People are calling.”
“I’ll try and talk to him.”
“Talk will do no good.” He looked at me.
I looked at him back like “Go fuck yourself!” Then I walked into the bedroom. Karin was next to him. She had on a red silk robe. Her white skin underneath—bare—smooth marble.
“Cathy! Come and give me a hug! Come oouuahn! Right here!” He patted his hand on the bed.
I looked at Michael. Tilted my head.
“Come ouuahn and join us!”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me down onto the bed. Karin was on one side—I was on the other. He tried to give me a hug. I pulled back—then I let him hug me. I could feel his whiskers. He had not shaved in days. I rested inside one of his arms. Thinking.
“Now look what a lucky man I am!”
I smiled. I had never seen Michael so relaxed. Not ever.
Karin snuggled into his chest.
Michael smiled—then dropped his head back.
“Woo … “ he said and shut his eyes. His mouth opened. He started to snore.
Then he shook his head awake. Sat up a bit.
And then to my surprise he turned towards me and dropped something down my shirt.
“Woo hoo ….”
I could smell the black tar. My stomach churned. And then he nodded off again.
I looked at Karin and Karin looked at me. I let Michael move into his nod—a world of waves. Warm. Neither of us moved.
I placed my hand under my shirt so the chunk would not fall out and slowly got up off the bed.
I put my fingers to my lips. “Shhhhh!”
I opened the door.
Dickey was standing there.
“He put his hand out—palm flat.”
I slid away from him and ran into the bathroom. Shut the door. Locked it.
I could hear the floor boards creaking from Dickey’s weight outside.
A gun in my face may not make me shake, but a chunk of dope the size of a golf ball could.
I pulled the chunk of tar out from my shirt and looked for some way to cut off pieces. It had to remain round. There was nothing sharp.
So I bit into the huge chunk with my teeth. Bit off pieces in small circles. Then I wrapped the stolen chunks in toilet paper. Slivers of shiny resin.
My tongue and mouth became numb. I felt better. My stomach churned and then relaxed. I had my kit in my jacket pocket—always—so I fixed. I couldn’t find a vein for a long time.
I could hear Dickey creaking outside.
When I finally opened the bathroom door Dickey was there.
“Well?” He whispered.
I handed him the huge chunk—the golf ball—now a bit smaller.
He smiled at me with admiration, shook his head, turned, and walked right out of the apartment.
I walked right out behind him.
I left Karin there.
This was the lifestyle. It was every man for himself. And it was a man’s game.
I called Michael the very next morning and said I needed to score.
Now he was straight.
“Dickey said you got all that dope. How much dope did I give you?”
“Michael—I gave that dope to Dickey. Ask him. Ask him to his face.”
Michael said nothing. Silence.
“All right. It’s my fault anyway,” Michael said.
I knew Michael would read it with his eyes closed. Dickey was a bad liar.
I never saw Dickey after that. I never liked him and I didn’t care. He used to always open the bedroom door early in the morning just so he could look at my breasts when I was lying on the bed with Charles.
He was an idiot.
But I had left Karin. And I did feel bad. That I had left her without dope. Our salve for wounds.
Now Karin was up there alone. In the new tower. Alone with Michael Bari.
I made frequent visits. I observed. She began to drop weight. And her eyes became swollen. But I could never get near her long enough to talk to her. Michael was always listening. Watching.
And then she started to do speed with Michael.
And it was all over.
About a month after Karin moved in with Michael, I saw Erica Clarke on the street. My corner. She was often there. Long, lean, attractive, smooth blonde hair, blue eyes. Merciful eyes. Full breasts set wide part. Nice soft hands.
“I am worried about Karin. You know the mother has the baby now.”
“Now she’s living with him—Erica pointed up the hill.”
“Michael has a gun up there. Karin says he’s getting really weird. That he’s making her turn tricks now for the dope. That he lets her stay sick. He’s half out of his head. Talks to himself and everything. But then when she turns tricks—he gets mad. Takes the gun out. Now Karin says he won’t let her leave. Won’t let her leave to get well or do anything. And the phone is dead up there. The phone….” Her voice trailed off in thought.
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going up there.” She said it with a matter-of fact certainty.
We both looked up the hill.
The next time I saw Erica Clarke she told me that Karin was going to leave Michael Bari. Go back home to her mother’s. Any day now she was going to leave Michael Bari and his great fortress of dope.
Then on a pretense to score I went up there.
Karin was there—she was wandering around the apartment half naked, her small round breasts exposed—strands of her long beautiful red hair sliding over her erect dark nipples. It made me feel sad.
“Get dressed!” Michael yelped out.
Karin picked up a shirt off the floor. Held it. Dropped it.
“I said get dressed! Now!” Her hair fell forward as she bowed her head.
I tried to get her to look at me. She just would not look up.
I became angry. I looked at Michael. I stared at him hard. Clenched my jaw.
Michael sat down on the couch and lit a cigarette. Blew some smoke out. He stared at me right back—his head cocked up to the side.
“Mind your business” he said with those cold fish bowl blue eyes. “Maiiiieeend your business.”
He sold to me.
Then it happened.
The cops found Karin’s fully clothed but beautiful, young, marble white and perfect body collapsed in front of Michael’s door. Her beautiful face made still. Her full red lips open. Shot through the chest. Blood on the floor. Blood on the door. Spattered. Blood on her vest, her shirt, her throat. Her lovely young throat.
Those cops caught Michael Bari. He was going down the back stairs. About to escape through the basement that led out onto the street. A cab was even waiting. He had called it.
They caught him with a small suitcase. He had taken time to pack.
Michael Bari did only 7 years for killing Karin Aradi. She was 22 years old.
In California you do about 1/3 of the time. Michael was out in 3 years. For taking a young life. 3 years.
The family of Karin Aradi fought hard to put Michael away for a long time. They failed. He had connections. The stories were all true.
Things came out in the trial. That Karin was a prostitute. Erica Clarke testified against Michael Bari. She told how Karin had been afraid—had been threatened with a gun—had wanted to leave. Could not. How Erica had seen Karin just the day before her death—how Karin tried to leave—with Erica—but that Michael threatened Erica. And then Karin decided to stay.
You see prostitutes were known as “non humans” in 1989. The laws were not made to protect a 22 year old girl that worked the streets. Not in 1989 and not in 2012. Not yet.
Karin had suffered her entire life at the hands of many. Her own father. Her mother who was the silent witness—the mother who feigns innocence—places her hands over her eyes, her ears, her mouth, while the madness moves forward.
All bound up, thick ropes wrapped around chest and arms. The tie off of any arm will do. Even a hand. A finger. A toe. The needle moves in to slow the panic. And takes over.
Karin succumbed to the angel of death because she did not know that the angel is afraid himself.
The way to subdue death is to not fear it. But to smile into the camera. Full face. To dare to let the angel of god take your picture—for just a second.
Karin Aradi is dead. She had red hair. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my entire life. I will never forget her. I am so sorry I left you up there in that terrible place. Please forgive me. Karin.
Michael Bari is dead. One week after his release from prison he overdosed on heroine. Up in a tenderloin single room occupancy hotel. Alone. Destitute.
Charles Oranger is dead. Sclerosis of the liver. I left him in 1990 for a trick. A trick who saved my life. Charles died alone. Destitute. But his loyalty remained. He would not let me testify against Michael Bari at the trial—of Karin Aradi. It was the only time I had ever seen Charles strong.
Erica Clarke is dead. She overdosed on valium and vodka sitting on her mother’s couch in their rich Belaire home—high up in the Oakland Hills. Listening to the Coyote’s howl. Her wide set breasts like scarred pin cushions.
I am alive. I intend to outlive everyone.
© Cathy Lemons, July 6, 2012