In this chapter I was 21 years old and living in Salt Lake City as a new Air Force veteran. Life was rough and I’d lost a lot of friends from another chapter, but I was still determined to keep going.
I was under the gun to find new housing. I was working two full time jobs, one 45 minutes south of me and another an hour and a half. I needed to find a place or I would lose my mind commuting and killing the tires on my precious GTI. At this point, I had gotten street savvy enough to buy a burner phone and use an alias while I hunted for housing. After touring as many places as my exhausted body could trek through, I settled on a large room with a shared bathroom in a woman’s house. I was excited that the room was in a separate wing with another renter and the room had office space and skylights. I paid the deposit, took the day off of both jobs and enlisted a couple of my Air Force buddies to help me haul everything.
We packed up a Jeep, my little GTI and a couple other cars and made the 45 minute drive caravan style. I instructed my friends to pull into the driveway while I greeted Cindy, the owner, and gave her the deposit. I parked, grabbed the cash and walked into the garage where she and Herb (her boyfriend) were sitting in lawn chairs, smoking. Before I made it past the garage door, she called out to me.
Cindy: Just so you know, we smoke.
Me: Smoke? So do I. Or do you mean weed?
I had arrived directly in front of them at this point. Sandy smiled and leaned in, her grayish teeth exposed.
Sandy: It’s crack smack (heroin and crack). It’s never been a problem so you shouldn’t have one either.
She leaned back and gave me another gray-toothed smile. It wasn’t that she was trying to intimidate me; this woman truly seemed to consider something like this as an afterthought, completely sure I wouldn’t mind.
‘Of course they did! Why would that be a problem?!’ I thought to myself. I assessed my situation. I was broke and needed to save up cash. She was holding my deposit already, thought my name was different than it was and my friends were pulling up with all my belongings. I decided against my better judgement to carry on and move out as soon as I had money. I smiled at her so forcibly I thought my face would crack and walked back to the driveway, giving my friends directions on where to carry things. In order to access the wing I was rooming in, we had to troop past a sliding glass door leading to the backyard. On the other side of the glass was a massive, lean black dog. He hadn’t been socialized and Cindy explained he had attacked people before, advising me not to bother him unless I was with her. Every time I walked in or out of my room it would howl and fling itself against the door trying to get to me. My buddy (let’s call him Bill) made a couple comments about the nature of the house until he saw the room. He was impressed. I was ruminating already on my new situation. As we carried my ghetto furniture and boxes in, Sandy’s man-eating rottweiler in the backyard started pounding against the sliding-glass door right outside mine. It was an abominable scene.
Once my things were all carried into the room, my friends, not knowing the conversation that had transpired with Cindy and I, left awkwardly. It was like they had known they were dumping me in a less than ideal situation, and were slightly concerned without knowing why. I returned to my room and stared out over the boxes and few pieces of ghetto furniture, giving myself a split second to feel bad for myself.
The next couple of weeks were a blur. With two full time jobs and also a part time job introducing itself, my life consisted of waking up, dragging to work as an auditor, converting into a CNA for another shift and then collapsing into bed to do it all over again in the morning. I had a half day off once a week and to me, those hours were so precious I never knew how to spend them. After two weeks of using my spare time to sleep soundly, I finally mustered up the stamina to…yes…buy a desk chair. Clearly, I dream big. I left for work before Cindy or my room mate were awake, coming home long after they were asleep. My mind was so foggy with exhaustion that I didn’t have the capacity to handle my new housing crisis. Things started getting weird quickly.
The day I slipped out to buy a chair for my desk, Cindy was getting ready to garden with her man-eating dog in the backyard. She invited me like family to help her. I stammered I was on a mission and left. When I returned, she and Herb were smoking pot in the garage together and Cindy was making a broken-hearted scene over something. As it turns out, she had gotten fired from her payday loan job and was still going through her divorce. She had a court date the next week and didn’t know how she was going to pay her lawyer. I sat with them in the garage, unable to break away from the conversation. Every time I started to go into the house, Cindy would engage me yet again. Att at once I realized I felt lightheaded and spacey. Everything seemed to have a new fascinating quality, worthy of contemplation but at the same time I felt completely carefree. My brow relaxed for the first time in months. I suddenly realized I’d been ‘hotboxed’. I’d just gotten out of the Air Force and had forgotten drugs had existed for years. Since Cindy and Herb were smoking weed in the tiny garage with the doors closed, I’d gotten an intense contact high. The other two either didn’t seem to notice or I was too high to detect it.
I remember Cindy telling me to always help myself to the fridge since she always cooks too much. I remember nodding, sudden hunger tearing through my gut. Somehow I managed to feel surprised; incredulous. I, one of the most street smart people in my hometown, who hustled and never got caught with my pants down, had either accidentally or been tricked into getting high. They broke out the hard drugs and I left. I managed to wander through the kitchen, past the man-eating dog (which I stared at, contemplating how it got so vicious) and into my room. I wandered around my room aimlessly for hours before finally falling asleep.
A couple days later, I woke up for work just in time to hear screaming in the living room. I leaped up and grabbed my throwing knives, ready to go. As my hand closed around the bedroom doorknob, I realized that Cindy and Herb were DOING IT. IN THE LIVING ROOM. I jumped back from the door like the knob had burned me. I didn’t know how long they were going to be going at it, but I had to leave for work. I dressed and waited by the door until I heard them go into the garage, then booked it out the front door. Still, at that point it disgusted me but I’d been through too much to be fazed. It was as if I was getting some kind of warning for what was going to happen.
I got home very late that night from work. I was exhausted, wanting to eat and go to sleep. I opened the refrigerator to grab my cold cuts and fix myself a sandwich, and spotted Cindy’s leftover sausage chili. I hadn’t had home cooking in forever; I decided to forgo my millionth sandwich and try the chili. As it was twirling around the microwave, I glanced around the kitchen spotted two cafeteria-sized baking pans full of German chocolate brownies: my weakness. I put two on a paper towel and happily carried my findings back to my room. I ate a brownie, then dug into the chili. It was spicy and it wasn’t cafeteria food, so I joyfully scarfed it down. I chowed down on the last brownie and decided to watch a video on my laptop before going to bed. I was really spoiling myself.
A half hour later I looked up. I’d been smiling broadly and playing with my socks, dragging them around the carpet and making them talk to each other. I sat up and shook my head a few times, then started thinking deeply about my taste in socks. I realized foggily that yet again, I’d been dosed. Apparently the German chocolate brownies had another ingredient as well. Suddenly I heard a crashing noise in the living room, where the front door was. Thankfully, the adrenaline overrode my mental capacity enough for me to seize my throwing knives again by the door and slip out of my room.
I turned the light off in my room before silently sliding out the door and dropping to the ground. I worked my way to the kitchen, situated between my room and the living room. I could see a streetlight; the front door was open. I lay in high-crawl position for several minutes, listening as hard as I could. Nothing. It appeared the coast was clear, but I recognized I didn’t have the capacity to clear the house and I certainly wasn’t going to call the cops in my state. I worked my way back to my room and closed the door behind me. Standing up, I flipped the light on, trying hard to stay focused. I heard heavy running footsteps above me. The upstairs was off limits for my roommate and I (whom I had only met briefly in passing), as that’s where the master suite and office were located. Cindy walked slowly and with a heavy limp; those footsteps weren’t hers. There was another crashing sound and I jumped to action with the mental capacity of a 5 year old.
I barricaded myself in the room. Considering my mental state, it was all I could do. My window overlooked the man-eating dog’s turf, so once several pieces of my pitiful furniture were holding the door firmly shut, I sat on my futon-bed, knives in hand and listened. After what felt like an hour had passed, there was still silence, but I was smiling and playing with my knives. I fell asleep.
The next morning I got up and listened at the door again. I carefully removed the barricade and stepped out, clad in my work clothes. Silence. I walked past the door leading to the garage and noticed Cindy’s car was gone for the first time in weeks. The deadbolt was ripped out of the front door, hanging slightly ajar. Whatever had happened, it seemed to be over and I didn’t have the time or capacity to deal with it. I strode out the door and went to work.
The two friends that helped me move were coming down to my part of the city to hang out that day and arrived shortly after I came home from work that night. I parked in the driveway just as the last streams of light faded behind the trees. Herb’s car was gone. Cindy was waiting for me in the garage. She got up and met me in front of my car.
Sandy: Hi Skye! How are you feeling?
Me: Oh fine. The usual. How are you?
Cindy: Well I have to go to court and I don’t have enough money to pay on both the house and the lawyer.
Me: Oh no! I’m sure something will work out.
Cindy: I have to raise your rent a couple hundred dollars so I can make it. I’m going to need it a week early so please bring it when you come home tomorrow.
WHAT. This lady’s nerve! Even though I had no intention of paying her, I gritted my teeth and smiled.
Me: Sure. Cash as usual?
I went into my room half panicking and half seething. What was I supposed to do? My buddy Bill pinged my phone. He was in the driveway with my friend Erin. I got in the Jeep with them and we went to McDonald’s. I was sullenly stabbing fries into my chicken nuggets, debating on whether or not to play it cool with my friends and tell them everything was great or if I should tell them what was going on. Erin, being her usual clueless self that something was going on, started complaining about her roommate. I knew him well. I wasn’t surprised that they were having problems, but I didn’t wholly believe he was the sole problem. Her confession made it easier for me; I told Bill and Erin what happened and what I was going on. I told them I didn’t know what to do. Erin smiled.
Erin: We have a loft. You could come stay with us. I could use help dealing with Frank (her roommate).
Me: Well he has to be ok with it. And I need to figure out how to tell Cindy.
Bill: Do you have to tell her? Why not sneak everything out while she’s at work?
Me: That’s the thing. She lost her job. She is always there. Her room is right by the front door and the only other way out is past the man-eating dog through the backyard.
Erin was on the phone with Frank already, asking him if he wanted another roommate. He was all for a ‘peacekeeper’. Sweet. All I had to do was figure out how I was going to get OUT of Cindy’s house. If we moved my things and she saw, I didn’t know what she would do but I figured it would be drastic. She was desperate, and desperate people do extreme things. I hadn’t signed a contract with her; she didn’t even know my real name. I could do this. I could get away; just the freedom of the thought woke me up to how bad things had gotten.
Me: Well, she’s around all the time but she drinks until she passes out every night. If I can find a way to deal with the dog, we could get my things out the back door. I’ll take a look at the gate and buy some Benadryl for the flesh eater.
Bill: Why can’t we carry your stuff out the way we did last time?
Me: We have to walk right past the door to her bedroom. With us trying to fit everything through the front door she will definitely hear us and if she wakes up, I don’t know what she’ll do.
Bill and I got online on our phones and booked a U-haul. He was going to come down pulling it with his Jeep and as many hands as he could. I would dose the dog and I’d just….disappear. It was the perfect escape plan. We worked out the details and planned to execute it the following day. All I had to do was stall for one day with paying Cindy.
I went to bed both nervous and enthralled. My work days dragged for what felt like years and then I was free!…of one job. My second shift lasted a lifetime and a half, but finally, I was free. Now that the hour was getting closer I was getting more and more nervous. If Cindy caught us, I didn’t know what she would do. She had firearms hidden all over the house and she was a very desperate woman. Either way, I didn’t have enough money to pay her; I was working a couple of pathetic jobs to stay afloat. I was so afraid of being homeless again I was ready to work two full time jobs until the end of time. The plan was in action and frankly, it was my best option. When I saw Cindy the next morning I told her that my workplace was switching payroll companies and so my paycheck was delayed. I promised to get her the money as soon as I had it. She told me it put her in a difficult spot, but there wasn’t much she could do.
Around 8pm, a sausage landed in the backyard loaded with muscle relaxers and Benadryl. I listened to the man-eating dog chow down and return to his doghouse. I waited until Cindy had passed out from her binge drinking around 9pm, then texted Bill. He rolled up silently, backing the U-Haul he had in tow right up against the backyard gate. Carefully, silently, we opened the gate. Armed with mace, we were ready for the attack from the man-eating dog, but none came. I went back inside and opened the sliding glass door, all but laughing in relief. This just might work.
It didn’t take long to carry my boxes and ghetto furniture out; I had only unpacked one box and my clothing (already stuffed into suitcases). We had everything shoved into the U-Haul within 20 minutes. I smiled; I loved the fact we were all military and got the job done so quickly and noiselessly. There were two hitches; I had a stereo/dresser/record player that weighed so much and was so unwieldy we had to leave it. Erin, being her usual ditzy self, dropped a box on the tile floor and it made a muted clattering sound. We all froze, holding our breath until we heard Cindy’s drunken snore reverberating through the kitchen. We all exhaled relief and carried the last of my boxes through the sliding glass door. By then, it was pitch black out; we couldn’t see our own feet as we secured everything for the drive.
Bill closed up the U-Haul and gave me a thumbs up. Erin was annoyed; her drunken roommate Frank was in Bill’s passenger seat. He had been too wasted to carry anything so we had made him stay put in the Jeep. I had one last thing to do.
I reentered through the front door and locked it behind me (the deadbolt had been replaced without comment). I scribbled a short note with apparently terrible spelling on a scrap of paper (below) and snapped a picture of it, grinning about the audacity of what we were doing. I left the note on the unwieldy record player with the house keys and strolled out the sliding glass door. I locked the gate behind me, climbed into my GTI and we were off.
We arrived 45 minutes north, back where I had originally moved from, pulling into the run-down apartment complex Erin lived in. With dismay, she told me she lived on the third floor. My muscles protested after two shifts and our silent escape. We sweated, wept and died carrying the boxes and furniture up the steps and inside the apartment. As the first crack of dawn erupted over the skyline, Bill and I were arguing how to get my beat-up desk up the final flight of steps. The moment we got it across the threshold, he was gone, exhausted and burned out. I collapsed on my futon-bed. We had done it. We had escaped the Junkie Landlord, and she still didn’t even know my real name. I passed out.
The next afternoon I woke, every part of my body sore from carrying so much. I grinned; we had done it. This lady was going to be looking forever for Skye Galvas and calling a burner phone that was at the bottom of her trash can. I picked myself up, splashed water on my face and stood over my belongings, taking inventory. Something was missing. Frowning, I mentally started checking off what it could be and realized one of my large bookcases was missing. It couldn’t have been left in the room; save for the massive record player, we had totally cleared it out. I grinned as I realized where it was.
Somewhere 45 minutes south of where I stood, smiling in thought at my missing bookcase, Cindy was probably standing in her front yard over it with an even bigger frown. It had been so dark out, once we set it down we hadn’t seen it while loading the U-Haul and we had left it in her front yard. I started to laugh. The Great Escape has been (almost) perfectly executed.