After graduating high school in 1974 my immediate plan was to leave home and get my own place. It was something I truly felt to be in everybody’s best interest: Mom would have one less mouth to feed, I’d escape the oppression of my hostile brother and, if things worked out, I could rescue my girlfriend, Roxanne, from an abusive home. My boss, Tony, was sympathetic to my plight and offered me a full time cooking position at Rustler Steakhouse. Tony also owned an apartment complex in North Hollywood. He said he’d knock off half the rent if I wanted to live there. In exchange I could help manage the complex by collecting rent money from tenants and keeping the property tidy. I found his proposition appealing and quickly signed off on the deal before even seeing what I was getting into. That was my first mistake.
Roxanne was also very excited about the prospect of moving out. Her home situation was terrible and she was basically unwanted there. We had one little snag to work out though; Roxanne was only fifteen years old. Knowing how her mother felt about her I was pretty confident she’d cut her loose. As a matter of fact, parental consent wasn’t an issue at all; it was a piece of cake. I simply knocked on Mrs. Gowers door and asked if Roxanne could live with me. She was totally on board with the idea. Her one and only worry was saving face with the welfare department so we agreed, for the record, Roxanne still lived at home should anyone ask. Other than that Mrs. Gowers was quite happy with the arrangement; for her it meant one less headache.
When I announced to my mom that I would be getting an apartment she wasn’t jet hot on the idea. The truth is, she tried like the dickens to talk me out of it. At the same time, she was going to charge me rent unless I checked into community college or a trade school. Furthering my education didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. I really wanted to yet I felt other obligations were more pressing at the time. I was on an urgent mission, a rescue mission. Any ambitions of my own would have to be put on hold. Besides, if I was going to pay rent I’d rather exercise my squatters rights elsewhere. The decision was final. But to soften the blow I did not tell Mom about my arrangement with Roxanne. She already had strong objections to our (inter-racial)relationship and this would surely have put her over the edge.
Neither Roxanne nor I ever saw the apartment complex until the day we moved in. Like I said, this was a gross mistake. The place was an absolute slum. It looked as if every gang in the San Fernando Valley had tagged it with graffiti. Walls were bashed in, windows were covered with foil and the courtyard was littered with mounds of trash. It was not a welcoming sight even for someone with standards as low as mine were at the time. Roxanne and I held our noses as we moved our garage sale goods into our unit, which wasn’t any more inviting on the inside than it was on the outside. But at least our apartment was conveniently located in the barrio so we didn’t have to travel too far to catch a good street rumble.
I was not opposed to living in an all Chicano apartment building in the barrio. However, I did fear because of their gang associations that they may object to a gringo and a negrita in the hood. My concerns were validated on that first day we moved in. Roxanne and I were not offered a very warm reception but only met with sneers and contemptible eyes. Little did they know, there was a new slum-lord in town.
It didn’t take long to learn that the thugs didn’t ever sleep at our gang infested tenement. They’d stay up late in the grungy courtyard yapping, drinking Coors beer and playing their music for all of North Hollywood to enjoy. And for whatever reason, they avoided toilets like the plague, preferring to mark their territory like junkyard dogs. It was also apparent that these gangs were opposed to the idea of trash receptacles. The courtyard served a dual function as a social square and a dumping ground for beer cans or whatever else these hoodlums stuck in their faces. This did not make my job easy. After all, I was the one who had to pick up after these guys! It was a task which proved to be impossible.
Each day I would pick up every stinkin’ beer can but within about a twelve hour period they’d mysteriously reappear. After a few weeks of this I had had about all I could take. I wasn’t going to be some little white fairy with a feather duster cleaning up after gang-bangers. That’s when I decided some policy was in order. So I printed up a couple of rules, very simple rules: no more drinking in the courtyard and curfew would be at ten o’clock. That was it, two clear-cut policies which I courageously posted in BIG BOLD letters in the courtyard. Gang-bangers don’t take to policy very well. The very next day the quad was filled with empty cans and the rules which I so valiantly posted were crumpled up and left upon my doorstep. But none of this deterred me from posting them again.
Later that evening I heard a knock on my door. When I answered, there was a mountain sized man standing there to greet me. He sported a shaved head and a fu-man-chu mustache. He had giant muscles rippling out of his white wife-beater tank top. He did not yell or growl or swear. Actually, he spoke in a very subdued tone. “Hello, my name is Nacho,” our visitor calmly announced, “And here are your rules.” Mr. Nacho handed me a wadded up piece of paper then explained to me the demographics of our community. “There are many of us,” he warned, “And only one of you.” By ‘one of you’ I was pretty certain he wasn’t referring to Rustler Steakhouse employees. Nacho ended our little chat by telling me it would be best if Roxanne and I found another place to dwell. I thanked the dear man and told Roxanne to start packing.
I suppose we could have stood our ground and defended our right to remain there. But, honestly, the North Hollywood apartments weren’t suitable for sewer rats to live in and they certainly weren’t worth fighting over. The gang-bangers were welcome to keep it all to themselves as far as I was concerned. So Roxanne and I heeded the sound counsel of our distinguished neighbor with the bulging biceps and got the heck outta’ there as quick as a flea hop.
It didn’t take long for us to find another apartment. From North Hollywood we moved back to Van Nuys, just a few short blocks away from Rustler Steakhouse and not too far from Van Nuys High where Roxanne was still attending school. She completed her entire high school education while living with me. But shacking together proved an impossible challenge for both of us. Emotionally, we just weren’t ready. We were troubled kids with a lot of baggage and unresolved issues. Because of this we fought often. Things would get very verbal with a lot of yelling and swearing, and often it would escalate to physical altercations. When Roxanne got mad she would tear after me like a Tasmanian devil and I would give her a good smack from time to time. Nacho was not the last person to run us out of an apartment. Because we were so violent and disruptive we received eviction notices from each of the various places we lived in. Looking back, I didn’t save Roxanne from anything.
* * * * *
I have done a lot of thinking about marriage verses the idea of living together with someone. The question is, what makes a couple choose one rather than the other? The conclusion I’ve come to is that living together offers convenience while marriage requires commitment. I don’t think there is any commitment between two people as serious as marriage. Within this divine institution the two have become one. The husband has taken a vow to put his wife’s wants, needs and interests above his own and she has promised to do the same for him. And marriage offers no outs. It’s ‘till death do you part. This is not true of the couple who simply live together. They do score on some of the benefits of marriage but the two are not one. When I was in this kind of arrangement with Roxanne, we were two individuals and each of us put our own interests first. That’s probably why we could never get along. The other thing is, either of us could walk out the door at anytime which, is what eventually happened. That’s what makes living together so convenient. You can be selfish and you can leave. In marriage you don’t have the liberty to do either.
As I thought about this I began also to ponder how man relates to God. Some interact with Him through religion while others connect more intimately, they have a relationship with the Lord. Interestingly enough, it’s the difference between ‘living together’ and ‘marriage’. Religion is man’s way of living together with God and it offers the liberty of putting one’s own interests ahead of His. Relationship is about living in God with the desire to please Him first. Religion also has a way of creating great distance between man and God. Not so when we are in a relationship with the Lord. The two become one. Never in God’s Word do we find Him inviting us to be religious. He does, however, invite us into a relationship. His proposal was made from a cross. Even now He waits at the altar of every broken heart to hear lovers say, “I do.”
“Let us rejoice, be happy, and give him glory because it's time for the marriage of the lamb. His bride has made herself ready. She has been given the privilege of wearing dazzling, pure linen." This fine linen represents the things that God's holy people do that have his approval.” Revelation 19:7-8
Note: Names have been changed to protect the forgiven.
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