San Francisco Diaries: When true love leaves you in stitches
Storyteller Kathleen Auterio moved to San Francisco from Massachusetts to do new things, just like in the Bee Gees song. It was the year 2000, and everything seemed to be on track: she had an apartment, a roommate, and a job at SF Weekly managing the adult ads in the back of the paper—a job that accepted her as a proud metalhead. After meeting a new guy at the paper, though, they would soon come face to face with a relationship trust exercise involving a field hospital surgery.
(We can’t wait for you to listen to the episode so you can fully get all the puns we stuffed into this post. Our mouths are still agape.)
Kathleen is also one of our esteemed Muni Diaries Live alum. You can hear her story about an eventful Muni ride on Episode 81 of the podcast.
Listen to Kathleen’s story:
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I moved to San Francisco from Massachusetts, to do new things, .. just like in the BeeGees song, Massachusetts. Their long flowing manes and satin jackets had a power over me as a child. Even long after falling in love with heavy metal, I was still hypnotized by those disco songsters. As much as I love the Bee Gees and the song, Massachusetts, it was the fact that I kept failing anger management and that a Boston cop told me I had an anger problem, that made me decide to pack up at the turn of the century and strike out west…to San Francisco.
I loved my new life in San Francisco. I had a job at SFWeekly doing the adult ads in the back of the paper — a job that accepted me as a full metalhead, and I had a roommate. A year later, in 2001, I returned to Massachusetts, to visit. I was a little nervous about it. I had some recurring dreams about having trouble getting back to my new home.
The visit went better than I thought it would: I saw all my adopted family – This is the kind of people you have in your life – when your childhood is so awful, the people around you – just start feeding you like a stray cat. I saw people from my work, and a shit load of people I knew from working at night clubs. But I was ready to go back to San Francisco, my new home.
The night before my flight, I had this dream. In the dream, I walked outside very early in the morning, and was greeted by my neighbor-sister. She told me the only way back to California was for her to drive me. And, that’s where the dream ends.
Back in reality, She did greet me, but just for a hug before I got on the plane back to San Francisco.
My fears were eased when I was sitting on my plane. I got settled in my window seat. I’m a giant child about planes. I fucking love flying. I actually put my arms out and pretend I am a plane, on a plane, like I’m 5 years-old.
Unlike me, my neighbor-foster-sister had a phobia about planes. I knew she was always picking her lips in anxiety whenever someone she knew was on a plane, and she’d wait until they took off. To me, she was sending waves of anxiety into the air.
I looked out the window of the plane, trying not to channel her anxiety. I knew our friendship was strong enough to handle the 3000 mile distance, almost freeing me – more to enjoy my new home, San Francisco.
My brain looked out at the skyline and said, “Last time I’ll see Boston.”
Here’s a little information about my brain:
My head can be like the puzzle box in Hellraiser – or sometimes a super negative Magic 8 ball. It’s blurted out vague, disconcerting, completely unhelpful things since I was a child.
Here I was on a plane, drunk, with THOSE 5 words in my head: “Last time I’ll see Boston.”
And, my brain made ONE logical conclusion and my mouth replied with 6 words you don’t ever say on a plane: “THE PLANE IS GOING TO CRASH.”
WAIT. DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?
I had no idea this was the fastest way to get service on a plane. The flight attendants brought me into the little kitchen area. One flight attendant told me I was more likely to die by meteorite or fireworks than by plane crash. I remember mentioning fireworks were illegal in Massachusetts.
They gave me camomile tea.
They said I could take the same flight the next day or next.
I heard this song: “should I stay or should I go, now…If I stay there could be trouble, if I go there could be trouble.”
I was panicking for the first time on a plane.
And this could be my turning point. But I thought, no, I don’t want to repack. I’m staying on this plane. I’m going back to San Francisco.
I got back to my apartment in San Francisco, and I was woken by my roommate banging on my door. People are calling about your flight number. Another one of my foster-sisters was in New York for an assignment for work, when the flight I would have been on, had I not been too lazy to switch flights, flew into a building over her head. The date was September 11, 2001.
But I still had a job to do at SF Weekly that day: I needed to work on the escort ads. I was in charge of the part of the newspaper with lingerie-clad massage healers. Bless them for their important work. I took this job seriously, and I was creative with the ads. I wanted the entire back of the paper to be a happy ending.
Right after 9/11, the adult section of the SF Weekly was busting. There was so much work at the newspaper. There was a new graphic design guy at work to help out with the ads.
I hadn’t gone to introduce myself, yet. I finally went over to him, held out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Kathleen, sorry I took a few days to introduce myself…” – and he slowly turned around, with heavy effort… He said “Hello” like he was too tired to greet me…I never give a crap about fashion. I’m a metalhead. I dress like a 14 year-old boy.. But, I couldn’t miss this. His hair was partially dyed. his natural hair was very light blonde, but he had clearly dyed it black at some point. It was growing out, so from a distance, he looked like he was balding. He had mismatched socks – like one blue and one white – mismatched. He was wearing a Christmas Sweater and overalls, with one strap up because the other one was non-functional.
I said, “this is some look you have here.” He said, “I’ve mostly just given up.”
My brain thought: “I am so horny for this.” Take notes guys. This is what women want.
I told my roommate I was very attracted to this extremely maudlin being at work. She was excited to see this specimen of despair, so I brought her to the company party at Bimbos. She said, “he looks so normal to have nothing left to live for.”
We started going to dollar drink night at El Rio, on Mondays, with some of his friends. We both approached the “dollar drink” idea the same way — drink quickly, get many dollar drinks. Dollar Drink night became a regular event on Mondays, which was as bad an idea as it sounds. Then, afterwards, we started going to the Phone Booth, another bar with a free popcorn machine.
The first time we went to the Phone Booth, I crawled up on a bench seat and rammed popcorn down his throat. Everyone was laughing because he really couldn’t breathe! It was so wonderful to hang out with someone who didn’t seem to fear death every second. I was falling in love.
Our work sponsored a lot of crazy events, like Exotic Erotic, which could be described as Eyes Wide Shut in a Costco. Working the booth and giving away inflatable sex sheep and fuzzy stuffed penis toys — you know, as you do in San Francisco — kept bonding us.
Every once in a while though, my head would do that thing that it did on the plane, blurting out completely unhelpful things just at the worst moments: “Well, you fucked this up. You were supposed to be a slut and not fall in love, idiot.”
One night, when we had officially started dating, he showed up at my door, with his hand covering his mouth.
At first, I thought there was someone standing behind him, with their hand over his mouth. I lived right in the exact middle of the one block of contested gang territory. Was this gang-related?
NO, it was just Lance. He was drunk, and he was trying to hold his mouth together.
He took his hand away and blood poured down. He said, “I fell.”
I said, “Off a train?”
From what we’ve pieced together, that night, he was at band practice down on Third Street, when he drank a liter of liquor and turned into one of those tragic “behind the band” shows, where a band member spirals out of control.
He and my roommate went to the bathroom. Blood was everywhere. He had bit off part of the inside of his mouth. Part of his cheek was a flap. Street gravel was ground into his face – and parts of his face were just missing.
Neither my roommate nor I were licensed to do anything. But I’ve been around a lot of people back in New Hampshire who don’t want to go to Emergency Rooms for whatever reason, and they’ll show up at your door to ask for help.
My roommate and I looked at each other and said, “we can do this.”
By that, we meant that we had first aid kits the size of the ones in ambulances and we were skilled in the art of “home surgery.” People brag about their ability to do things at home, like make beer. But my roommate and I can probably sew your intestines back into your body. That’s some real fucking DIY shit.
It was surreal. I’d moved 3000 miles, and I was feet from someone so much like me. How did I randomly meet someone, who was … actually doing a home surgery with me on a guy I also liked. San Francisco is magic.
We laid him down on the couch and for hours, we pulled stones out of his face, and literally sewed him back together. Of course, we had to say TV shit, like “scalpel,” “scalpel”… “I’m going to need hot water and towels!” You have to laugh while you’re playing the game “Operation!” on a real human’s face. We also thought this would be more fun high, so we did that, too.
When he woke up and saw his Texas Chainsaw Massacre Face, he became a movie starlet. “I’m hideous!” He was vain. He wouldn’t take calls. His friends started to think I’d done something to him, which was unsettling because they barely knew me and – I HAD sewed his face together, so, this would look – REALLY BAD. I could be one of THOSE PEOPLE on the news, who decided not to take a guy to the ER, but, instead got high and sewed his face together.
He told me later that he realized – I was the only one he could go to that night. Over the next couple of weeks, he was in my apartment. We watched cheesy movies, shared pain pills, slowly bonded together. It was the exact plot of some good horror movies where someone becomes horribly disfigured, held captive, drugged, gets sewed back together, disconnected from their friends, but is nursed back to health with liquid food.
Amazingly, in the seven hours that we were super-gluing his face together, and in the weeks of aftercare, my brain never blurted out any of those terrible, unhelpful things. My brain never said, “You fucked this up.”
My husband and I like to say, 9/11 brought us together.
Eventually, he said, romantically, “why don’t I just pay rent.” And that’s when we moved in together. And, together, we’ve enjoyed Meningitis, being held hostage, living in a gang war in the Mission for 3 years, a heart attack, a Muni accident, Whooping Cough, the list goes on.
We had the most heavy metal wedding at San Francisco City Hall ever, it was slayer themed, and he said his vows in Swedish. I still don’t know what he actually said. I’m wondering if he was saying, “I have Stockholm Syndrome.” But, it’s 20 years later, so he probably said, “I love you, but please don’t sew my face together, again. That was weird, even for us.”