Around mid-2007, Melissa found a job at a goth clothing store near my apartment. She reasoned that, since she spent so much time around my neighborhood anyway, it would be best to just find a job around there. Most nights, after work, she’d hit me up and see if I wanted to hang out. Most nights, I agreed. Some nights, I was busy working or I’d already made other plans.
There’s a part of me that thinks, in retrospect, she was becoming paranoid that I was exercising “Rule 1” whenever possible, so she wanted to limit the amount of time when that could happen. Contributing to this theory is that I filmed “Doris’ Mouse Earrings” around this time, and she made a number of offhand remarks afterwards that she wasn’t sure there was any movie to be made in the first place. It’s like she was implying I’d flown to g’damn Idaho just to bang some random broad, though she never said that directly. As you know if you read that story, the movie never surfaced, so unfortunately I never got a chance to plead my case on that one.
That September, we visited my sister in Phoenix, and she met my nieces — both of whom still asked about her for some time later (they’re almost adults now, which is trippy as fuck in its own right). For my birthday, she bought me a tabletop version of the “leg lamp” from A Christmas Story — which I only mention because it will come into ironic play later. On Halloween, we celebrated our anniversary together, and somehow we agreed on the hare-brained idea that I should leave a “tally mark” on her thigh with the boot knife we used in our play. It seemed like a fun ritual for sick-fucks like us. In November, we visited Phoenix again to spend Thanksgiving with my mom at my sister’s house. She was only the 2nd (and last) girlfriend of mine my mother ever met — despite my mom thinking she’s met far more — but certainly the only girlfriend my mom ever actually liked. This will be important later.
Towards the end of the year, we agreed that we should just be living together. At the time, I was still living with Nad, and he was pissed about the idea. In his mind, she should’ve just moved in with us. In my mind, our apartment was way too small for that, and my room already had too much shit in it. I also thought it was unfair of Nad to assume I’d always just live with him, and it caused a permanent rift in our friendship that he thought I was selfish for wanting to live with the woman I loved. Melissa and I started looking for places sometime around late November, but the holidays made apartment hunting a difficult venture, so we only spent 4-5 hours on the weekends in December actively looking at places in person. We also had to plan for our trip out to Colorado to visit my mom at her ranch. The last long-term girlfriend I had never even considered leaving California with me for Christmas, but Melissa had no such reservations.
When we went to see my mother, it was pretty well established that this could very well be my mom’s last Christmas (slash birthday, since my mom was born on Christmas). Due to that, Melissa was super cool about exploring my mom’s ranch property, and hanging out with her in her arts & crafts workshop. We went sledding down the hill on the side of my mom’s property, and it was a giant pain in the ass to get those sleds back up to the top of the hill. Halfway up, I said “is it worth doing all this work just so we can slide back down again?”, and she grabbed my arm and said “Mitcz… this is probably the last time you’ll ever get to do this. It’s worth doing it again”. Sadly, she was right. Many times over the following months, I thanked her both for saying that and for trudging her way up the hill alongside me for something so silly. During that visit, I decided to do an on-camera interview with my mom about her life, and later asking her advice on things in my (and my sister’s) life. It might sound morbid, but I told her it might come to pass that I hang onto Melissa if only because she was the last woman in my life that met my mother, to which my mom said “well, that’s just silly. I think she’s a lovely woman, but… Mitchell… don’t try to make a bad thing work just because of silly things like that”.
Over the next few months, we search tirelessly for a place to live. We figured it was best to get a 3-bedroom, since I’d need a room of my own to use as my home office. It was a pain in the ass because neither Nad nor Melissa had any credit line to speak of — and Melissa had zero rental history — so most places wanted me, and me alone, to provide at least 70% of the rent. Nad also, as mentioned previously, had very little desire to move, so we only brought him along to apartments we were looking at a 2nd or 3rd time, lest he get bored and angry with the whole process. Finally, in February 2008, I found a place in West LA that was reasonably priced, reasonably large, and the owner didn’t have a lot of concern for credit lines or rental history. None of us loved the place, but we were mostly in agreement that after 3+ months of searching, it was one of the better options that we could reasonably afford and see ourselves living in. Nad would later say he’d always hated the place, and I think still harbors a grudge towards me for “making him” move into the place.
Once we moved in, Melissa and I were basically just a normal couple. Except one giant elephant in the room that I never thought to address. I never sat Melissa down and said “okay, we’re together now. The ‘Rules’ don’t apply, because we’re just a normal, monogamous couple”. I should’ve said that. I shouldn’t have assumed she knew, and I shouldn’t have assumed we’d have a conversation about it if I ever needed to leave town for work, a role, or a tour. But, I did. I just figured “well, she knows what’s up”, and left it at that.
A few months later, in April, Melissa and I went to Fangoria. I went because a friend was filming some stuff and asked me to help interview some people. She went because Headsick wanted a presence there, and she makes for good presence and advertising by just being there. I ran into her while I was making my rounds and asked her how things were going. She said “ohh my god! I ran into (name redacted)!”. I said “who?”. She said “he was Scutty Farkus in A Christmas Story!”. I remember thinking, and maybe saying, “okay… so, the weird ugly bully kid? Who gives a fuck about that guy?”, but she seemed excited, so I high-fived her on it.
Later that day, while at home, she was walking around the apartment talking to Jackie on the phone and said “yeah! he complimented my ass! He wants to go on date and play Lazer Tag with me. haha!”. When she hung up the phone, I said “who wants to go on a date with you?”. She said “ohh, it’s just Lazer Tag.”. I said “you said ‘date’, though”. She said “well, yeah, I mean.. whatever he called it. I already told you about (name redacted)”. I just shrugged it off, thinking she was just excited that some dude who played a character in one of her fave movies wanted to play Lazer Tag with her. I promptly forgot about it.
About a week later, on the day that the new Wii Mario Kart was released, I called her all excited “hey! I got the new Mario Kart! I’ll see you at home!” and she said “ohh… tonight’s Lazer Tag. I won’t be home until like 6-7pm”. I said “Lazer Tag?”, confused. She reminded me that … let’s call him Red … had invited her out for Lazer Tag. I went home, fired up the game, figuring I’d pass the time while she was out shooting “lazers” at tags.
Around 8pm, I texted her and she said “oh, we’re just grabbing dinner real quick”.
Around 11pm, I texted her and she said “oh, I’m just hanging out at his place for a few”.
Around 3am, I texted her, saying “seriously, is everything okay?”, and she said “yeah, sorry… leaving in a minute here”.
Around 4:30am, she finally came home. I was drunk. And pretty fucking upset. And I felt betrayed. She’d broken all the rules, all in one night. What’s more.. I didn’t know how to deal with it. That’s a level of disrespect I never showed her.
That’s when the Centralia fire started melting the concrete.