The Ortega Home was a suburban Florida style duplex-turned-squat, complete with turquoise trim, white walls and two outdoor refrigerators, one in the garage and one in the patio. The Ortegas were a crude caricature of what a family should be: Manny (age 18), Ty (age 14) and Phil (age 13), an older sister, Nicole (age 19), and their mother, Tina. No dad.
The youngest brother slept in a teepee in the living room. The older ones worked at fast food joints, selling raver drugs to high school kids out of the drive through windows. In the eyes of our parents, Tina technically constituted as Adult Supervision. Tina let us run wild. She even did drugs with us. Her defense was that she’d rather have her children and their friends do drugs at home with her than out on the streets. I think she just wanted to feel like part of her own family.
Conversely, Nicole never hung out. Normally she stayed cloistered inside her room. I secretly had a crush on her even though the few times I made contact with her, she referred to me as “one of her brother’s little friends” or, worse yet, “Worm”. Nicole’s aspiration was to be a Rockette or a Vegas showgirl. I had no idea what either of those ambitions entailed other than being a hot leggy lady with lots of teeth that pranced around to Holiday show tunes with a bunch of other identical girls that were all, for whatever reason, marketed to the elderly. I knew this because West Palm Beach was swamped with retirement homes. The elderly and their puzzling ways were a consistently ominous presence in my life.
Sunday morning at the Ortega house, I was one of the stoned kids, paralyzed on the couch watching my friends play Super Nintendo. Not giving a fuck who won. The oldest Ortega, Ty had a best friend named Scott who was an instigative rube that, when drunk, always tried to convince us to shave our heads. On top of being an asshole, he was crazy. He once forced a 13-year-old boy to snort a giant line of K. The kid freaked out so badly he ran out the house, narrowly avoided being hit by a car before being found by his sister, crying, stranded and confused at a nearby strip mall. Scott for no reason, didn’t like me, straight up. He’d antagonize incessantly, trying to pick a fight. I always walked away humbled, because I was afraid of losing.
Outside on the patio, Scott and a few older kids were beer bonging. I could tell by his exaggerated gestures that he was showing off. Past the screen door we made eye contact. Through a drunken sneer, he surreptitiously whispered something to the other guys. Obviously the heat was directed at me. Hiding out inside Nicole’s room was my only plan of escape.
On the other side of Nicole’s door I heard the soft throb of trance music. I stopped short of knocking to breath in. I allowed a collection of scents—Aquanet hairspray, clove cigarette smoked, gas station incense—to settle in my lungs. Combined with Nicole’s feminine scent, I thought of an ocean I’d like to drown in.
Thankfully Nicole let me in because she also hated Scott. Semi-joking, she said that I could hang out if I didn’t talk. I could tell she got a kick of how intimidated I was. She was taking mushrooms and wanted to practice dance stuff. I remember her telling me that tripping was the only way she could concentrate in that house. She said it was the only way she could truly be alone.