It Can Be Beautiful for Everyone

Katrina Woznicki

(USA)

Near the 405 overpass, lined with plastic dome tents, rusting grocery carts, and litter, a topless woman stands alone in the middle of the street. You see her, but she doesn’t see you, or see anyone. It is one of those many, many bright blue ribbon sky kind of days—weather so flawless, so consistently perfect that it launched an entire industry that now gives us 24/7 celebrity culture. 

Homeless people struggling with addiction are as ubiquitous in Los Angeles as celebrities and sunshine—and addiction is everywhere but here—it’s all about who can afford to hide it. Heartbreak and hope fight for every street corner, and it doesn’t matter how gorgeous this city is: rejection and pain are powerful, and numbness offers a reprieve. Numbness comes in many forms, and is sought everywhere. A violet and tangerine sunset on the beach can only do so much. The view is always postcard-perfect in Los Angeles—you can rely on that—but the people suffer. They suffer hard.

And, it cuts you to see so much pain in this beguiling place. A half-naked woman groggily crosses the road stopping traffic, and no one seems surprised. You’re trying to head home, and she’s trying to go to who knows where. Her hair is messy. Her only clothes are dirty, cropped grayish sweatpants. She is barefoot. Her breasts are large and droopy. She is curvy yet thin. She looks middle-aged, but maybe time lies because life is rough, so maybe she is younger. She moves like a zombie, slow and awkward, dismissive to the traffic in front of her. Cars stop. No one honks out of frustration. There is this quiet, collective patience. We wait.

You want to cover her with a blanket from the trunk of your car, and tell her it’ll be okay, even if that’s not true.

You want to ask her her name.

You want to ask her what happened.

You want to ask where she grew up.

You want to ask her who she used to be before she stopped traffic. 

You want to ask her how Los Angeles betrayed her. You want to know so that it doesn’t happen to you. You want a map of some kind as if broken dreams can be avoided by taking a different exit off the highway.

And then she’s gone, disappearing into another abyss of tents and trash, where the bougainvilleas push up fiercely against the concrete, wire, and anything else man dares put in their way. Southern California flowers don’t fuck around.

Remember, you chose this life. You want all of it, all of L.A.’s shitshow—a cityscape of discarded furniture and dumped beer bottles while calla lilies bloom in February. You want L.A.’s aspirational mess, its sparkle, its sprawl, its traffic, its obsession with vices and cleanses, its healers, its littered beaches, its crystal shops, its sex toy shops, its taco trucks and donut dives, its earthquakes, its tented cities, its formidable mountain ranges, its horizontal living, its promises of reinvention. L.A. is light penetrating the darkness, a passionate lovemaking. A symbiotic grit tinged with perfume. 

And, this was always more you anyway, a twisted, lush paradise where people piss and masturbate in the streets. You belong here. You were never okay with everything being perfect, which is why you found the suburbs abrasive and lonely. You feel safer in paradox. Contradiction anchors you.

L.A. first met you in 1998 during a January drive to Seattle, and it was love at first sight, unexpected but profound, the high you had been searching for. Astonished by the sight of groves heavy with ripe oranges while snow-capped the mountains, L.A. seduced you without a word. As a kid who grew up in the Great Lakes Snow Belt in Upstate New York, you’re still gripped by this vision of fruit blossoming in the face of snow, and that’s the magic of the City of Angels that keeps you tethered here despite the harshness. Few things accomplish that–repeated novelty simply by stepping out your door, every step deepening this love affair to the point where you place your entire future in L.A.’s grimy hands, trusting a city that just met you to grant your every wish, to never mislead you.

And, is that trust earned, even now? Love does that. You and L.A. slid into a situationship long before that word existed, an attraction so pronounced, so present from that first day, yet weighed down by an ongoing ambiguity that dragged on for years. You didn’t mean for it to happen that way but it did. Every time you boarded a flight back east, you were unsure of when you’d be back, no discussion about a future as you cried and the plane curved over the Pacific. And then in 2018, you arrive at LAX on a one-way flight, luggage in hand, nowhere to go but your new address, and the city you love says “Where’ve you been? You’re glowing.” 

You are home. Forever home. Your ashes will be thrown from some beach nearby, your remains forever mixed with the disintegrating debris of life here: In-N-Out burger wrappers, cigarette butts, needles, broken seashells. Life in Los Angeles is now a commitment because that’s how every relationship begins—a step forward into the unknown. And, you need L.A. to come through for you. The chemistry is palpable and sticky. You taste the city on the lips of the men you meet here. You taste their tequila, their burnt sage, the saltiness of the Pacific, the mercurial wildfire that scorches this paradise. Los Angeles is in their skin. You taste their hurt and their starting over. You kiss their effort. Los Angeles is about again, and again, and again, like retakes on a shoot. Trying things this way then that way because you taste the struggle with imperfection. It’s the romance you want but too much of L.A.’s golden abundance has been stripped away. You don’t want to see people wandering the streets, lost and in pain. You need the glimmers of the utopia you read and heard about before you landed here, the Garden of Eden in movies and songs. That’s an imperfection you understand: the striving, the hope. You need L.A. to not give up. You need L.A. to be the song Mazzy Star sings about in “California,” dreamy—and within reach. You’ve been together too long now to walk away.

Your relationship with L.A. has lasted half your life, has now outlasted your marriage, and you go to bed trying to better understand the nuances and mysteries of the lover you think you know, the lover who allows someone strung out and naked and so heartbreakingly vulnerable to zigzag between cars, and when you ask Los Angeles why—how can it allow this—it says nothing, that sulky silence lovers do when they know they’ve done something wrong.

So you do what lovers also do: you reach across the darkness to find the heat and contours of the city that holds your heart. You whisper, “We can do things differently. It can be beautiful for everyone. No one needs to walk in the street like that.” 

And then after a moment, you say, “Please, let’s try.”

And, after a long pause, Los Angeles whispers back, “Okay. Yes, let’s try.”

Katrina Woznicki

is a

Contributor for Panorama.

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