The Hairpin Travel Series, Part Two: “An Escape From Untenable Circumstances”

by Maria Bustillos

Episodes One and Two of The Hairpin’s Kindle Serial “An Experience Definitely Worth Allegedly Having” are available in full via Amazon. Episode One, by Carrie Frye, is excerpted on The Awl.


One romanticizes the idea of traveling to a distant country, but in my experience the romance-novel version of travel occurs rarely, if ever, in an ordinary person’s life. Even if one manages to plan everything out, with gorgeously tempting color brochures and guidebooks lovingly marked up in advance, the likelihood is that unforeseen circumstances will interfere with even the most carefully laid plans. Far more often, though, travel is inescapable, the result of disruptive, oppressive, or even scary circumstances of one kind or another. A new job, imperatives of family, of education. Or of love.

This is Edward, circa 1984.

When we met, Edward was gay and I was married. He turned up at my house one night in the company of a friend. By means still not entirely clear to me Edward and I fell, or really more like plummeted, in love. He was twenty-three, and I was twenty-two.

Eventually I moved from LA to San Francisco to be near Edward, who was flaking off in school at Berkeley at that time and working at the university newspaper there, the Daily Cal. There was a lot of nightlife, and a lot of reading. Edward is a wonderful dancer, loves a good cocktail, a good novel. He taught me to swing dance. He is a very brilliant writer, and reader. I took a job in the Europe Middle East and Africa division of the travelers cheques department of a bank; I dreamed of writing a novel myself, one that Edward would love. Did I want to do banking? No, not really? Not in the slightest. I wanted only Edward, Edward.

My tiny corner apartment looked out onto Market Street; it was in a lovely and suitably romantic building reminiscent of a wedding cake — tall and white, a gigantic Deco confection full of enormous transvestites. I would marvel at them in the old-fashioned elevator, the kind you shut with a gate: so tall, the size of their shoes! The only transvestites I’d seen up close until then had been in Brazil, delicate, slender ones indistinguishable from ordinary women. I’ve never forgotten those Amazons, so resplendent, making their way so joyfully, in that much less forgiving world.

My tiny place had high ceilings, a very good hardwood floor, and a lovely ’20s bath with walls tiled in a lurid turquoise, glistening black tiled borders, and a quarry tile floor. The bedroom was decorated with Christmas lights and blown-up photographs of Edward; the very walls were beautified with images of my boyfriend, reflecting the condition of my psyche, I was that obsessed.

It wouldn’t be fair to blame Edward for the maelstrom of those days. I should give credit where credit is due.

Little miss pleasure seeker! — I have so many things to explain to her. But what would I say, what could I say? I would wind up just rolling my eyes heavenward. Silently implore.

I’d been through a dark patch when I was married that first time. Largely, I had gotten married just to get my (Catholic) parents off my back. They were having no part of the shacking up with the boyfriend thing. The easiest way out, it seemed. Though not for me, had I had a lick of sense! What I ought to have done was just gotten out of there. Please note: getting married never, ever makes anything easier unless you actually want to be married. (In that case, it makes everything immeasurably easier.) But if you do not actually want to be married, things only become worse and more difficult, not less so.

After a short time I found myself doing more drugs than was strictly sensible. Never so much that I couldn’t easily manage whatever wacko job I had — private secretary jobs, mostly, for a series of rich lunatics — but obviously too much, drugs every weekend and sometimes weeknights too. I made a new friend, Angelo, a beautiful gay boy a year or two younger than I, who taught me a lot about music; he was a total omnivore and equally scholarly completist about everything from Japanese techno to George Clinton to Cher. Angelo and I went dancing or to shows almost every night. Looking back it all looks like this never-ending carpet of unhappiness, one escape after another.

We had a huge tank of nitrous oxide that I’d have filled at this gas shop in the middle of nowhere. A scabbed, heavy, fearsome industrial-looking thing that I couldn’t lift on my own. It made a deafening low-pitched honk when you filled balloons with it at the hard black rubber nipple: very worrying with respect to neighbor-freaking potential. I threw big parties with these huge four-foot monster balloons, people passing out, seeing God, the real miracle being that we were never busted.


Want more? The full story is available via Amazon, for $1.99, which also covers the rest of the seven-episode Serial. (A Kindle or computer/smartphone/tablet with the — free! — Kindle app is required to read.)

And many, many more of Maria’s pictures can be found on the collection’s (also free!) companion Tumblr.

Maria Bustillos is a Los Angeles-based writer and critic.