It took me a long time to get back to Remo’s. I think maybe there’s some chance that heatstroke had something to do with that.
Or maybe I just felt like shit.
The crying jag ended when I got out of the truck and puked into a garbage can outside the convenience store. I wasn’t really thinking at that point. I was on autopilot. I remembered puking backstage in Austin, Texas, and I remembered Christian introducing me to Gatorade. Remember that? Not just for jocks–who knew?
So I went into the store and bought some Gatorade, and went back to the truck and turned the engine on, and then the AC and sat there really cautiously sipping the stuff. I don’t actually remember now but it’s possible that I had sat there with it off all the time I had been crying. At the time I was pretty sure I was the stupidest human being on earth anyway, so I wouldn’t have put it past me. My brain was in that mode where it replayed a montage of horrible moments from the last several days but didn’t think useful thoughts of any kind, and the coherent ones were mostly me blaming myself for everything.
The problem is you’re underwater.
A PR reason.
Tell your boy what reality is.
That’s what happens when…
It took me an hour to make my way through the bottle of Gatorade–it was one of the big bottles–and then I went in and bought two more of them and tried to drive.
I only went a couple of blocks before I decided I wasn’t ready for that, and I parked in the shade, and kept the AC cranked, and drank another bottle. This one went down quicker.
I started to feel a little better then, and I decided to just try to get back on the highway and make it to the next exit, and I’d pull over again there. I am at my stupidest when I’m sick or injured, I think. All I could think was that I wanted to get back and somehow that turned into this plan to take it one exit at a time. Never once did doing something intelligent like driving to the hospital occur to me. (Despite the fact there was a hospital pretty much right there.)
So I made it to the next exit and parked again. And I switched from Gatorade to water. And I began to worry that maybe sitting in the car with the engine running wasn’t that good an idea because maybe I was carbon monoxide poisoning myself. That’s how terrible I felt. Horrible. So I drove to the next exit–yeah, I know–and found an actual grocery store and walked up and down all the aisles, pushing a cart, because at least the cart held me up when I felt somewhat weak and at least I looked like I was a shopper rather than a derelict.
Let’s face it. I was a derelict. I thought at least they can’t get me for vagrancy, because I had probably hundred dollars in my pocket, but then again, knowing the “war on drugs” maybe I had too much cash on me and they would get me for suspicion of dealing or intent to buy or some dumb shit…?
So, add paranoia to the list of things I was suffering. I broke down again in the dairy section. Actually, I didn’t cry. I just covered my face with my hands and stood there holding it in until I thought maybe I was going to puke again. Amazingly, no one challenged me or said anything. Maybe they were afraid of the crazy person.
When I got myself back together I put a gallon jug of water into the cart, and more Gatorade.
I went to the checkout stand being worked by the person who looked to me most likely to be a responsible adult: a woman even shorter than me, with her black hair in a net and very chubby arms. She looked at what I was buying and said, “That’s it?”
“Um, yeah. Hey, do I look like I have heatstroke?”
She looked me up and down. She was probably fifty. “You look okay to me. If you’re sweating, you’re okay. If you stop sweating, that’s when your brain boils.”
I accepted this diagnosis at face value. “Thanks.”
Thus reassured that my temperature probably wasn’t going to be fatal, and feeling somewhat more coherent after spending half an hour wandering around in the air conditioning, I went to the pay phone to call Jonathan. The line was busy. I tried calling the fax number, and it was busy, too. Jonathan must have been on both lines at once.
I ended up dumping half the gallon of water over myself in the parking lot and then got back in the truck.
I limped the rest of the way back to Laurel Canyon, sticking with my plan to stop at every exit to make sure I wasn’t about to pass out. I know, I know, that doesn’t make any sense when I think about it now. But at the time it seemed like the best thing I could come up with. I did not pass out, and I made it, though it took five or six hours.
To this day I don’t know if I was actually in physical distress or if it was entirely emotional. Maybe when emotional pain is bad enough there’s no difference.
Anyway, I made it to the house. I didn’t crawl in, but I felt almost like I did. Instead I carried in the two bottles of Gatorade I hadn’t yet opened, put them in the fridge, and then sank down and sat at the foot of the refrigerator. It blew hot air on my butt. No rest for the wicked. I didn’t care. I didn’t move. I could hear Jonathan’s voice from the writing room, where he must’ve been on the phone, but I couldn’t make out the words.
A few minutes later he came out and looked around, I guess because he had heard the garage door but couldn’t figure out where I was. When he finally realized I was on the floor behind the counter island, he said, “Oh!” And rushed over and knelt down. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said. But I just could not say anything more. I couldn’t even begin.
He held my hand for a bit, and brushed my hair out of my face. He eventually stood, still holding my hand, and encouraged me without saying a word to move from the floor to the couch. I guess my silence was contagious. I ended up lying on the couch with my head in his lap, and he stroked my hair soothingly while I tried to untangle my distress enough to explain.
I failed. I failed to say anything, and I had failed to talk to Ziggy, and I had failed to keep Ziggy’s interest once he was separated from me, and I had failed as a professional musician.
And I was pretty sure I was going to fail at this relationship with Jonathan, too, if I couldn’t even make some words come out of my mouth, at least some simple ones.
I think an hour or two went by. The phone rang at one point and we ignored it. The machine picked up but no one left a message. I would quit trying to say anything for a while, and then every 20 or 30 minutes I would try again, and the most I managed was a kind of choke sound.
Then I finally thought of some actual words to say. He was already gone. But I it took several minutes of repeating it over and over in my head before I finally said it out loud.
“He was already gone.”
The last thing I expected J. to say in return was, “I know.”
That was a jolt. You know how in old movies they slap people across the face to “snap out of it”? This was like that; I sat up suddenly, nearly banging my head on his chin. “What?”
“I said, I know. I’ve been on the phone all day. Ziggy’s on his way to India with a woman who hasn’t been positively identified yet, but is probably his Star Baby co-star.”
“Jennifer Connelly. No, wait, Jennifer Carstens. Too many actresses named Jennifer, sorry.”
I honestly had never been sure, even when I heard her name, which one she was. “And… India? How do you know that?”
“I didn’t expect to find out anything about him, you know. I was trying to find out who took the photographs of you, of us, and one thing led to another. I have a very crappy fax of a photo taken as he was leaving Betty Ford at dawn if you’d like to see it.”
I blinked at him. “That’s… wow. That’s amazing.”
“This is what I do, Daron. It’s not all fluff pieces in the record trades.”
“I… I didn’t say it was. I mean, I had no idea investigative journalism was… was so investigative.”
He smiled and went to get the fax. In it I recognized the lobby entrance of the clinic, where I had been a few hours before. Ziggy was clearly recognizable, holding hands with a woman wearing dark sunglasses and her hair under a scarf.
“There’s also one of them getting into a cab, but you can’t make out their faces at all in that one.”
“You can make out the cab’s license plate and the company name and phone number, though. I called them and managed to find out where he took them, which was Burbank Airport, which only has about forty flights a day…” He paused. “You get the idea.”
“I get the idea. Which means you have a scoop. Right?”
“You know, I hadn’t really thought of it that way.” He made a face. “I don’t think I really want to sell this story, Daron. The only reason it matters is because it matters to you.”
“Oh. Oh. Then.” I wasn’t making sense. “And you’re sure India?”
He took hold of my hand. “You’re scaring me, dear.”
“I’m sorry. I… I’m…” I didn’t have a word for it.
Jonathan did. “Devastated.”
“Yeah.” It felt like my heart and soul had been laid to waste by a nuclear bomb. All that was left of me was one of those shadows on the side of a building.