By Betty Underground © 2008
In 1996 I moved into the house in Santa Monica Canyon. Wedged between Pacific Palisades and the Santa Monica Pier. Channel Rd and PCH. State Beach. Volleyball nets stretched across white sand. Roller bladders fighting for the attention of the boys at the spike.
It was the only team sport I had ever played with any regularity. The only one I enjoyed and was somewhat good at. Volleyball. Mixed doubles. 2 man teams.
I met Kam my first weekend at the house. Kramer, the consummate welcome wagon introduced me around the beach crew. Most of them locals. Living in and around the canyon. Like most everyone, he was blonde and tan. Towered nearly 6'7". A full foot plus on me and he was a lefty, with a right handed wind-up. Catching opponents completely off-guard irrespective of how many times they met him at the net. I was a digger and moved quickly in the sand. We would be a deadly pair.
The second weekend I met Monique La Bouche (The Mouth). Moni as they all seemed to be referring to her as. I soon learned she was a regular. Well, more of a fixture. In her bikini, wafting smell of coconut oil and the sound of sizzling flesh. A natural beauty but she could have used a sandwich. Bit skinny in my opinion.
She was Kam's friend. Roommate as it turned out, but the terms gave off an awkward appearance. She came with him everyday. Carrying a large stripped bag. Colorful. Reminded me of a Pousse Cafe and the contents were as lethal. She was a pill popper. Many of the beauties on State Beach were. They drank very little. A beer here and there, but consumed diet pills and speed at an alarming rate. One way to stay skinny.
The way she wiggled her jaw back and forth and rubbed her nose were tells about that other way girls were avoiding eating. Coke. I had been there. Knew the signs and the side effects. Paranoia. It started from the get go. Her crawling up his ass whenever I was around. Riddled with jealousy. Easiest thing was to hate me and she did an outstanding job making that clear.
"Get to know me bitch and I promise to give you a reason to hate me," I remember uttering under my breath one night at the local bar.
After the sun went down, we tracked sand into Marix's. A Tex Mex joint at the mouth of the canyon behind Patrick's Roadhouse. Taco Tuesdays were a big hit. Dollar Tacos and Dollar Margaritas, or free as Kenny the bartender was my upstairs neighbor. Fantastic neighbor for more than the free drunk; he took his shoes off before entering his apartment so he did not disturb me with his clunky boots on the hardwood floor.
There was Moni. Two steps behind Kam no matter where he was. I didn't think much of it. She seemed comfortable with everyone and Kam was kind and generous to her. She didn't seem to want the attention on men. Other than Kam. She was perfectly content hanging on his every word. I get the friend things, but this was suspect. I stayed out of it. She tossed me the stink eye and I would keep my distance.
They came and went together most of the time. Thursdays and Fridays she worked late so we never saw her at the volley ball courts those days. She would roll into whatever watering hole we were holding up later in the evening in her slinky hostess dress. She had a gig at some swanky restaurant that apparently paid a nice grip of cash. Enough so she only had to work two nights and one day shift. Sweet gig if you can get it. Not sure it paid well enough to support her habits.
I was in my late 20s. Newly single. Pulling shots (Espresso shots) on Main St. for a big wig coffee joint, training to be a manager and a decent wage was the reward to get up at 4 am. Leaving plenty of sun in the afternoon for court trim. Kam and I had been playing mixed doubles for 2 months, or so. Hitting our stride as a two man team and looking forward to the string of tournaments a few weeks away. We spent most every evening on the courts and then all of us tying a few on at the bar.
One evening, I dropped Kam off at home. He knocked and waited for her to let her in. Odd. She flashed a fake smile and pageant wave and I just rolled on. Later that same night I was hanging out on our communal deck overlooking PCH. Kam and Kenny cut through the alley across the street leading from Marix's. Moni and Kam had a falling out and he had made his way to the bar to wait for Kenny to get off. He needed a place to crash and Kenny had a couch. He was starting his gig working on the set build for Dante's Peak and looked in desperate need of a good nights sleep.
The next afternoon I queried him about what had happened. He was terribly out of sorts and hesitant to dive right into it. Lots of dancing around about the landlord and her having problems with her job. Her boss was hitting on her which I could tell enraged Kam. It was his nature to protect. Still there was something underneath the surface. I didn't push it. We just sat, talked about a whole lot of nothing and then he blurted it out. He and Moni were more than roommates.
They had dated a while back. Moved in together as a couple. He was in love with her and looked forward to planning their future. He hadn't realized how deep into the Hollywood drug scene she was. He was an athlete. Living clean. No drugs. Her habits had began to claw away at their future. He didn't want to give her up. He wanted to help her. Get her healthy again. So he stayed. Struggled through her withdrawals with her. Every step away from the drugs opened the door to more demons.
She was abandoned. Spending most of her younger years in Foster Care before being adopted at the age of 11. Her adopted father molested her. Her mother locked her and a younger sibling in the closet. Disappearing for hours to do god knows what. Returning in time to serve up cold tater tots and uncooked hot dogs.
Moni unloaded stories of a horrific childhood. Slowly. Feeding them to him one by one each time he took a step away from her. They tore Kam apart. The pain she had endured. He had seen the good in her and desperately wanted to heal her. Help her. Make her whole again. He was committed to her. When he told me the story, on the balcony that afternoon he was ripped apart. Shredded inside. I could see right through the thin exterior and into an empty soul. One that had been given over to her. To help her. Forsaking himself. He had been battling her addictions and demons for more than a year. I saw in his eyes, it had beaten him. He was lost.
In the past few months he had been trying to get her into therapy. He recognized this was bigger than him. More than he had to knowledge to fix. He also needed to be released for the prison the relationship had put him in. He convinced her to get help. She went. She was doing the work the therapist was giving her. Facing her past. That was when Kam tried to leave. The first time. He felt she would be more successful in her path to healing if she focused on her, and only her. He didn't want to create any distractions.
She lost it. Snapped. Locked herself in the bathroom screaming and crying. Kam sat outside the door. On the floor. Begging her to let him in, to let him hold her. He promised not to leave and the screaming subsided. Silence fell. The weight of his body against the door. Whispering to her through, the palm of his hand pressed on the door trying to feel her.
Slowly the latched lifted on the door and he fell in. Catching himself only inches from where she lay on the round white bath mat. Bleeding. Vertical slices in both wrists. He ripped his shirt into pieces and wrapped them around her wrists. Not thinking to call 911, he carried her to the car and sped off to the hospital.
They kept her, under psychiatric observation for the next 72 hours. She was released into his care and required to attend therapy. Kam took her to every appointment. Sat and waited for her. Lost his job because if it, but it didn't matter. He felt obligated.
Things got better. Bliss came back into the relationship. She was able to speak openly to him about these horrors. When she was 17, she became a prostitute. Her parents were never home. When they were, they were drunk and abusive. She ran away, but would send money back for her little brother. She got beaten up a lot. Learned to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. She had no self esteem. The diet pills made her skinny. Made her feel excepted in the land of the beautiful. The speed getting her through the days. Coke came at night, when she needed to escape her own mind. Her past.
She was getting help. Mending herself again and the road to recovery was one she travelled willingly. This time was different, she let him go. She understood why he had to be away from it. To give her the space she needed to build a foundation for her own happiness. Outside of him.
Two weeks later, she called and told him she was pregnant. That was about a month before I first met him. He knew the only right thing to do was ask her to marry him. He had morals and beliefs that simply would not allow him to let her give the baby up. Marriage was the right thing. He bought a ring and got down on one knee. At the beach, in front of everyone. This was going to fix her. Fix them. He was excited about the future.
The very next week, she miscarried. He struggled to wiggle loose from the commitment. The tragedy shaking him loose from the dream. She was not getting better. Not healing herself. Lying to him. But with every attempt to break loose, she unloaded another horror to churn the guilt. Guilt for leaving her so soon after the loss. Shoveling his inadequacies on him.
Her demons became his. He carried the weight of her past on his shoulders like a cross. Crucified for the life she had been given. Suffering for the sins of others. Unable to free himself. Cemented in the relationship. Nailed him to the ground. Dead in his tracks. Buried in his own desire to help her until he suffocated. Was torn down. Loosing his own will.
This is how things had been for the last month. They had separate rooms. Living more as roommates. Moving out is not made easy by the soaring rental prices and he needed to be quiet about seeking out a new living situation. Guys at the beach had their eyes open and were helping him find a place to land.
We played our first tournament. Took second place. Alex threw a huge party at his apartment on Montana Ave. It was the first night Kam was without her. A Saturday night. She would be coming after a hostess shift she had picked up because she had missed so much work. She needed the money.
Kam was happy. Smiling. Enjoying the friendship. He was a huge goofball. Hurling all six and a half feet of himself around the living room, dancing. He had sworn off the booze. Intoxicated by the freedom of the night and the happiness that filled his heart in those moments. Alex's roommate was heading off for the Billabong tour and it was shaping up to look like Kam would be able to take his room for a few months.
Then Moni arrived. And she brought his cross. His burden. She tried to get him to leave. Threatened to hurt herself. Cut herself. He couldn't take it. Told her he would meet her back at the house. Needed to clear his head. He wasn't angry, just broken. That happy joker. The life of the party was turned inside out. His empty soul exposed to everyone. He was embarrassed and bolted to the street. She was hot on his heals, Alex right behind her to put himself between them. She screamed and struggled against Alex's chest. Standing tall and firmly planted with his arms straight out. She could not budge him. Kam pulled away in his smurf blue Toyota FJ40 and headed down Montana. Probably towards PCH. The beach, where he would sit and clear his mind for a while.
Kramer and I checked the beach for him about an hour later. We didn't see his car parked in the State Beach parking lot just after midnight. Figured he was still out driving. Maybe headed up the coast to Malibu. Maybe to his parents place in Topanga Canyon. PCH was eerily quiet at night. Silent. Dark. No traffic. The traffic signal at PCH and Chautauqua changed for no one. Red. Green. Yellow. Red. Lights bouncing off the fog that blanketed the coast.
Early the next morning the house was buzzing. It was barely dawn and emergency vehicles had shut down PCH in both directions. A Sunday. Traffic rerouted up our street towards San Vicente. I walked down to the beach with Kramer and Kenny to see what was going on. We turned the corner by the liquor store and we saw it. A mangled twisted pile of smurf blue steal wedged into the cliff.
As the wreck came into focus, so did the gurney. A body, covered in a yellow plastic sheet. A bystander said the police thought the driver had flown down the California incline to PCH so fast that he catapulted the car into the side of the hill. Killed instantly. No one had seen it happen. The fog was solid. Like sludge that night. It wasn't until the first ray of sun hit the hillside just south of Patrick's Roadhouse that the wreck was discovered.
Nailed to the cross by her demons. Kam was dead at 28.
Betty Underground is a writer from Northern California.
June 05, 2008
The Crucification of Kaminsky
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