Come get lost, disillusioned, and saved in San Diego with me today. Today's story is the prologue of the novel, From the Beach to the Desert, by Dillon Mullenix. It's a subject matter many of us can relate to, but what struck me most was the sense of place. I love when a setting is so vivid that it becomes like a character itself, and Dillon, who spent his college years in San Diego, has been clearly influenced by his surroundings.
Dillon Mullenix is from Los Angeles and gave up a career in law to become a writer. He now resides "just above the heat of the lower desert, in a fortified double-wide, guarded by pit-bulls, marigolds, rotting corpses, and chicken wire." He has been published in various magazines and blogs, such as Common Ties, Vivid, Boho Chico, and Fourth Magazine, as well as in an anthology titled, Relationships and Other Stuff.
From the Beach to the Desert
By Dillon Mullenix
On Sunday I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to puke and then I went back to bed. I knew what was happening and I wasn’t nervous. I waited for it to come and when it did I let it out into the toilet bowl … when I was done I rinsed my mouth out and went back to bed. “Are you alright?” Leila asked. And I said I was fine. I just had to pass the poison on.
It was 11:00 a.m. and the sun was high in the sky, unobstructed by the cloud formations in the distance, clouds that I could hardly see over the rooftops of the beach homes. Everyone was at work. I was home alone, sitting outside in the sun smoking and drinking beer, thinking of Warner Springs, California, where I planned to move. I had this idea of what a desert person was like based on TV stereotypes; Cowboys and Indians, freedom on the open range, little law, little government, a simpler life. Isolated. Individualistic. It described what I felt to be an achievable character goal, and a norm in the high desert’s culture.
At the time I knew I couldn’t just sit around San Diego forever biding my time. It had been too long already. Graduation had come and gone, my lease was up and my only viable option seemed to be “The Dub,” as I termed it. I was ready to move. I was excited and happy about it; although, I felt that in some primordial way what I was doing was wrong. I was leaving Leila to the dogs.
The thought of staying for one more needless moment in San Diego made it impossible to wait for Leila. I couldn’t take her with me, anyway. That seemed an impractical thing to do. It would have made everything I was trying to achieve by moving away from the city and all the habits I had formed there impossible.
Not having anything to do, but wait, I sat around in my apartment building in Ocean Beach, plotting my next move, writing poetry, and watching the ocean undulate with the predictable receding and advancing lunar sequences.
I spent several months like that, just sitting around, watching the surfers and the dogs playing in the sand by the jetty. Occasionally, there was a storm and I saw fifty-foot behemoth waves crashing into the pier while rain lightly rapped at my black jacket. It was a simple pier: concrete pillars supporting a wooden deck made of weather beaten planks. Dogs weren’t allowed on the pier, but Oso and I used to go out anyhow, and gaze out at the foaming and churning waters coughing up below.
Those days were interjected by fierce arguments with my woman. She and I had been living together since we met at a Halloween party back in the summer of ‘05. I loved her as soon as I saw her. She was wearing a sexy cowgirl getup that showed off her nice tits and good legs. That was three years ago, and the happiness has long since set into the dusk behind the edge of the ocean.
I guess, toward the end of my stay the fights and fiendish nights became more violent and more the norm of our relationship, and the long happy days in the warmth of the sun dwindled down to almost never. At that point all we had was our high sessions and the sex holding us together. I drank plenty, just sitting in a small dark room wasting away, watching muscles turn to fat and the dreams fade away. She cried in the front room, and I listened silently from the gloom of the old white walled room we shared for so long.
Sometimes, I think of my guilt, all the addiction and temptation I had succumb to, it dysfunctioned us, causing irreparable damage, and not only to our relationship, but to her. That’s what her friends thought anyway, and it wasn’t far from what our neighbors knew to be true. It wasn’t intentional. The timing just wasn’t right for us.
There were other things that were going right, too. School had come to an end, leaving me with too much time to dwell on the idiosyncratic right-wing nature of San Diego, the part I didn’t like. I didn’t have homework, textbooks, or mid-terms or finals to hide what was all around me.
Until I moved to San Diego I had never been in trouble with the law, however, since moving here I had countless interactions with the local police. I got caught stealing a text book. Caught with drugs in the car. Caught drunk in public. Caught pissing in public a few times. Caught for various traffic infractions. I was sent to jail a few times for some of those infractions.
The thing was I had been a model student all my life. I went to class, earned first-rate grades and maintained a level of civic responsibility. I voted then, and engaged people in heated debates over politics and science, and, at the time, I was still under the belief that individual were powerful mechanisms in American government.
I don’t harbor that illusion anymore. In O.B. I dreamt of escaping all that surrounded me every night I closed my eyes, like an orphan dreams of adoption. I was the epitome of an alienated youth.
At first I thought the city was changing, but I realized I was just getting tired of the way it had always been. The office buildings, authority, density and gentrification, materialism, façades of cinderblock and steel, long hours without sleep, lights at night, no stars, the sad song of the ocean; I was sick of all of it, of seeing it, being a part of it, feeding into it, feuding with it.
Even in my sanctuary, in the hippie beach town of O.B., the cops had a definite presence. Everything had disintegrated into degeneracy. And I understood something then I had not believed before: Being yourself is illegal in America. I knew that all I had to do was leave and everything would be okay.