Cinnamon and Me
Cinnamon flipped her long blond hair behind her right shoulder and let it creep back again. Acting like she didn’t know I was hurt. Being her usual actress-y self. Whack, whack, whacking away at the vegetables for tonight’s stew.
“You know I can’t do that, Cin. No way I can call them, especially to ask for money,” I said.
I watched her hands, the one with the knife, the other holding a fat, dirty carrot. I saw the sun inked into the back of her right hand, the moon into the left. Sloppy tattoos, scratched in one night a few years ago by some guy whose name she can’t remember anymore. Cinnamon was a real slut. Sex was just a means to an end for her.
She ignored me, so I walked out the back door, around to the front of the house, and headed to the phone booth on the corner. The sun shone bright and hot. I saw Yazzy across the street, standing out in his weedy front yard, smoking a cigarette with his eyes closed, his threadbare denim cutoffs, unbuttoned, sliding down his bony hips. His fro bobbed in the breeze like the head of a dandelion.
“Yaz!” I shouted. “Grab those shorts before you’re out here naked!”
I saw him smile, stick the cigarette between his juicy lips, and still with his eyes closed, slide the shorts down over his butt, letting them fall around his ankles. I really loved living here. Just seeing that gave me the will to call my mother and grovel for some cash.
The phone booth smelled like urine and felt like an oven. I left the door open as I dug around in my back pocket for a dime. I pulled out three pennies and a nickel.
Parents are the worst. I remember being plopped into a little green and yellow helicopter by my dad; I was probably four years old. He put a raggedy strap across my waist and clipped it. We were at Playland, this stupid old amusement park. It’s in Rye, in downstate New York, where I was born and raised. Mom stood by the metal barrier waving like a nut, and my heart the size of my baby fist pounded in my chest. The ride started, all the little helicopters filled with clueless kids, and round in circles we went. Pull the bar in, Mom shouted. Pull it in to go up, said my dad. But I didn’t want to go up. I was fucking terrified. I was trapped in this plastic toy, sitting on a metal seat that burned the back of my thighs through my stretchy red pants, and getting dizzy and nauseous. Strangers stared at me, and then they were laughing, and I knew it was because I was ugly and stupid. Mom and Dad kept shouting at me to pull the bar in. I threw up as soon as the ride stopped.
Seriously, what were they thinking? Mom took me to the restroom to clean me up, and when we came out Dad had the car keys in his hand and didn’t say a word as we followed him out to the parking lot.
Now that I’m going to be a mother, I keep remembering all sorts of moments like that one. How my parents had no fucking idea what they were doing, but they kept acting like they knew it all. I know I have no idea what I’m doing, and I think my baby will be better off for that. At least I won’t make her feel like an idiot all the time. She’ll see that I’m just as clueless as she is, and that will make her feel normal.
I walked around the corner and into town. Town. One small grocery store, a pharmacy that had the dustiest merchandise I ever saw, a pizzeria run by a young Irish couple who had no idea how to make real pizza, and the little gas station where you could score weed and acid. I figured if I walked around a bit looking at the ground I’d surely find some loose change in the gutter or hiding in the brown grass in front of the buildings.
I’d tried to find a job when I came here three months ago, but the pickings were slim, and no one wanted to hire another teenage runaway. Not that I actually ran away. I told my parents I was leaving. And I’d called Cinnamon asking if I could come stay with her for a bit. I’d just graduated high school, had no plans, and realized I’d missed my period for two months in a row. And I was feeling queasy every morning. So, I had gotten myself knocked up, and I didn’t know who the father was. One of three guys. None of them husband material. But thank goodness they were good-looking. Maybe this baby would take after one of them. All had great hair. And blue eyes. I’d always wanted blue eyes, but I got Mom’s mud-brown color. And one was pretty talented musically. He played piano and guitar. Wrote some cool songs. Had this long, thick, strawberry blonde hair. The way it sounds — strawberry blonde — makes it sound feminine, but he was tall and muscular and a real man. Seven years older than me. I met him one night at the Fore n Aft. He was in a band called Mystical Mama. I’d been there to see them play a few times; they were the Tuesday night band. This one time he and I went out to his van to get high. One thing led to another. Just once. I sure hope he was the one who put this baby in me.
My friend Debbie’s twin brother, and a junior I hooked up with one night when I was tripping, were the other two contenders. A junior, but real cute. And Debbie’s brother is a sweetheart, but he’s had a steady girlfriend for three years. I think they’ll end up getting married.
Anyway, I must have gotten pregnant that week. Yep, a wild and busy week. I mean, I have sex all the time, but I’m not a slut like Cinnamon. I do it because I like it, and I never expect anything from the guys. I had a boyfriend once, and we were together all through tenth grade.
Cinnamon fucks around for money and drugs and attention. It’s always a negotiation with her. Someone who will help pay the rent. The dealer at the gas station. Some lost soul who will hang around and kiss her ass. Seriously, it’s not even for love or anything. I can honestly say I feel love for a person when I screw them. Not in-love love, but a spiritual, magical, caring kind of love.
The last day of September, and it was hot, humid. Housewives walking slowly along the sidewalk carrying brown paper bags and ugly purses, staring at the ground, looking up to say “Hi, Gladys” or “How’s Ralph?” when they saw another pair of feet in worn pumps approach. Not much older than me, some of them. Locals. Sometimes I wanted to stop one of them, invite her to sit on a bench with me, and ask her about her life. Are you happy? What do you do all day? Do you have kids? Is this a good place to raise a kid?
I liked the mountains and trees, the quiet, the slowness of this place. I got here in the middle of June. Two buses, and then Cinnamon and one of her ass-kissers came to collect me at the bus station, over in the next town, in her beat-up old Chevy.
Cinnamon is my cousin. She is eleven years older than me. Our moms are sisters. My mom was the baby of the family. Cinnamon’s mom was the oldest. In between them were four brothers. Boy, did those two hate each other. But, being family, it was that kind of hate you pretend isn’t there on holidays and at birthday parties and funerals. Once in a while I’d see them off in a corner, alone together, laughing.
Cinnamon is an only child like me. Seems both our mothers weren’t crazy about having babies. Our uncles got married and their wives had tons of kids. But I only ever really hung out with my aunt and Cinnamon. I used to think she was IT.
Mom let me start sleeping over at Cinnamon’s place when I was fourteen. I can’t believe she let me hang out there; I guess she just wanted me out of her and Dad’s hair. Cinnamon had an apartment in Mount Vernon back then, across from the train station, with two roommates, Ellen and Jill. The three of them were hairdressers at the same salon. Cinnamon was always putting henna in her hair, and getting perms, and she wore dark eyeliner and white lipstick. We’d hang out in her apartment, getting stoned and drinking Boone’s Farm apple wine on the weekends. Saturday nights we’d take the train into Manhattan, and I’d have all this makeup on because the three of them liked to practice on me, so I’d get into the bars without a problem. They had given up on my hair. It was fine and thin and straight, and even when Ellen gave me a perm, it didn’t curl, just frizzed up for a few days, then broke off at the ends. But Cinnamon liked the color of my hair; she called it chestnut brown. Chestnut, some kind of tree, and a good name for a horse. I didn’t see anything special about it. Just brown, like my eyes, like my mother’s eyes and hair. I tried growing it long, but it seemed to just give up when it reached my shoulders.
When Cinnamon got fired, for stealing shampoo and other beauty products at the salon, she moved back in with her parents. I’d hang out with her there once in a while, but it wasn’t as much fun, and she had no money for weed or wine. Then, in August of ’69, she and her sort of boyfriend at the time headed to the Woodstock music festival, and she never came back.
Two dimes and a quarter. The jackpot. I walked over to the gas station and used the phone booth there. It smelled like piss, too.
Mom answered after three rings.
“Perfect timing,” she said when she heard my hello. “My stories are on. What do you want?”
“Groovy way to make your kid feel missed.”
“Don’t give me that hippie talk. And besides, you’re the one who left. Do you miss us?”
“Sometimes. I mean, yeah. So, how are you, Mom?”
“Like you care. Why the phone call?”
“I need some money. To help with food and rent,” I said.
Quiet. Then that long inhale and sigh.
“Fifty?” I grabbed the number out of thin air.
“I’ll send a check. But that’s it. Get yourself a damn job, or come home and get yourself a damn job.”
“I’m hanging up now. One Life to Live is starting. And by the way, I do miss you.”
Holy shit. She misses me.
“But,” she added, “I sure didn’t know what I was getting into when you were born. Goodbye.”
I felt a fluttering in my stomach. Another. Fuck. I put my hand on my belly and pressed. It was moving.
When I called Cinnamon to ask if I could stay with her, she said, “Sure, it’ll be great, come on up,” and I packed my bag right away. Mom and Dad were like “whatever” and even paid the bus fare.
Cinnamon lived in a two-bedroom bungalow in a little valley surrounded by mountains and woods. There were a bunch of these bungalows scattered around a muddy lake. She said it used to be a vacation town, but over the past few years the lake went bad and people stopped coming. So all these hippies, leftovers from Woodstock, moved in, and although they annoyed the locals with their hair and bare feet, they paid rent and helped keep the stores in business.
There was a topless joint right off the highway, about five miles from town, and that’s where Cinnamon worked. Like I said, a real slut. When I first arrived, she actually tried to get me to work there, too. I mean, Cinnamon is skinny, but she does have breasts on the big side, whereas I was skinny and flat as a board. Plus, no way I was going to dance naked for a bunch of fat hicks. That’s when I told her I was pregnant, said I’d try getting work at the grocery store or something.
Cinnamon got quiet; stopped bitching about money and me being a freeloader. She actually hugged me. But a few days later the whining and complaining started. Cinnamon moaning about having to work and buy all the food and drugs. Drugs, well fuck that. I only smoked weed, and not much at that. I didn’t drink wine or anything, in case the baby would get messed up. Marijuana seemed okay, being so natural and relaxing. I didn’t get wired or fucked up like when I used to drop acid or take black beauties.
When I got back from town, Cinnamon was still at the kitchen counter, only now she was chopping up celery.
“Fifty bucks,” I told her.
“That won’t last long.”
“The guy at the pharmacy said he might need help starting next month,” I lied.
“Wait until he sees your belly pop out. You’ll be fired real quick.”
“It moved,” I told her.
She dropped the knife and spun around. Her eyes were wide. She smiled.
“Come here, come here,” she said, taking my hand, leading me to the lumpy sofa on the other side of the room.
She pulled me down to sit close to her, put an arm around my shoulder and a hand on my belly.
“It’s not moving now,” I said.
“Shush. Don’t talk.”
We sat there like that for about ten minutes.
When I’d told Cinnamon I was pregnant, she said that I still needed to find work, and that she would never have a kid. She said if it hadn’t happened to her by now it wasn’t ever going to happen.
“But you use birth control.” I said. “You didn’t want it to happen, right?”
I didn’t say how the last few times I’d done it I didn’t bother with the rubbers or telling the guy to pull out or anything. I mean, I wasn’t always careful when I fucked around, but over the past year I’d started pressing my luck. I think I wanted it to happen.
“Never. No birth control. From the first time — wow, I was fifteen — never used anything. Sometimes the guy would pull out, but I never took the pill or anything. And it never happened.”
“You’ve been lucky,” I said.
“Nope. Just not meant to be, which is really fucked up because I’m so nurturing and all.”
I had to turn my head and roll my eyes, hold my breath to keep from laughing. Nurturing? Cinnamon?
Sitting here now, though, as she pulled me into her, I felt it. It was a warmth, gentle and comfortable, like breath from her pores. She needed to take care of someone.
“We’ll let this kid name itself. Like I did,” she said, waiting for whoever was in my belly to kick.
“But you had a name when you were born. I mean, you were Cynthia, until you started talking and couldn’t pronounce it right. It was sort of a mistake that you became Cinnamon.”
“It was meant to be. Fits me. Spicy sweet.”
“Yeah, but what do we call the baby until it can talk?”
“Angel. That’s good for a boy or a girl. Or just baby. Or whatever feels right in the moment.”
Just then, a flutter, then a roll. Cinnamon gasped. And tears started rolling down her cheeks.
“You’re so lucky,” she said.
“But I am scared.”
I was. I was terrified. How the hell was I going to take care of a baby? A person? Suddenly it hit me, like a punch in the face, in the dark, out of the blue. It was growing. My stomach would swell, and then I’d have to push it out. Then what? Crying. Shitting. I’d need money. How would I feed it when it grew teeth and bit my breasts?
The fluttering subsided, but Cinnamon kept her hand there.
“I’m really scared,” I said.
“Don’t be. We’ll help you.”
I knew who she meant. She meant Yaz and his wife, Melanie, across the street. And Sylvia and her guy, Mike; they had three little kids of their own. Linda and Karen, who lived in the bungalow behind us. They were both real nice, and had real jobs. Nurses. That was good, having nurses for neighbors.
“I can take another shift or two at work, I bet,” Cinnamon told me.
“I hate that you have to work there.”
“It’s not that bad. I love the music. Most of the guys are nice. I just dance and think about how happy I’m making them. And then I get paid.”
We sat there quietly. Cinnamon would get up to make dinner soon. Sylvia, Mike, and their kids would be joining us. But for now, I just listened to the breeze shaking the tree branches, the leaves touching each other. They’ll be turning colors soon, getting brittle and crisp, start falling. Then winter will come.
It snows a lot here in the Catskills. I love the snow. Winter is my favorite season. What will I wear then? I’ll be fat. Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Day. A new year. By mid-January, a winter baby. Capricorn. Perhaps Aquarius. Definitely on the cusp.