No. 2 - On 19th Street

April 3, 2020

Lillian Kalish

I went for a long walk after being quarantined in my parent’s home for 14 days. I took pictures of old cars, a family of cacti, the wind blowing cattails in the yards of spectacular, palatial homes, pink and orange pastels glowing in the Friday sun.

I walked by the first apartment we moved to in Santa Monica - 1044 19th Street. I remember we lived at apartment 4, I would say when I finally shed my performance anxiety and rattled off my address on the phone to the pizza delivery man or the school admin. There’s a stoop out front - actually part of the neighboring complex - where my sister and I would pretend cook elaborate meals for our dad, snapping twigs, emulsifying grass and rolling waxy green leaves into small canapés.

When I think of the apartment now, the basement, the living room, and the upstairs room I shared with my sister, they all feel like three separate time zones, one for dad’s work, one for sliding around on the glossy wood floor, and one for invention. Our little room. Where I would build small amusement parks out of toilet paper rolls and discarded juice box cartons. I hid them under the bunk beds until they started to smell and my mom threw them away. Where I first read Harriet the Spy, the queer kid critic slash reporter who turned me on to this life of snooping, dishing, and jotting.

We lived behind a synagogue, a reform one whose insides I only visited years later as an adolescent when I wanted to find some connection to Judaism. But back then I would watch the kids play after school in the gated playground. Their giggles, squeals, and songs would stream through the window in the afternoon.

Though the block was home to a number of kids at my school - Levan, a sports star and one of the few other mixed kids I knew growing up, Rachel, an older teen who was never home, and Julie, a soft spoken French girl who was later swept away by popularity - I spent most of my time on 19th Street with a kid named Jett.

Jett had long blond hair and was tall for his age. He would paint his nails blue and sometimes wear black eyeliner on the bottom lid. He lived with his grandmother who was always in front of the TV. He was allowed to stay out late. I remember how he would climb over the fence that separated our two complexes and swing his feet on the concrete stoop. I never went over to his house. I can’t remember exactly what we’d do together other than talk and sometimes mill about the alley with a ball or catch moths and rollie pollies but I remember us always having to say goodbye too quickly, the call of dinner pulling us apart.

I don’t know whatever happened to Jett but I remember his eyes - a blue green pierce. He would definitely have been described as a “feral” kid by 00s Tumblr. Not doubt we were fed into the same middle school around the corner a few years later yet I never saw him. He was a year or two younger than me I think and the canyon of pubescence soon placed us on opposite cliffs. Or maybe the same, obviously queer cliff but we didn’t (or couldn’t) see that we were standing close by.