When there’s something on my mind, I don’t think very well. I mean literally, it’s like there’s something in the way of the gears of my brain clicking the way they should. I think addiction is having something on your mind constantly, something that’s not actually beneficial to you at all. Obsession, too–same deal. I don’t make good decisions when I’m obsessed. Well, at least when I’m obsessed with a person, like all that time I was hung up on Ziggy. (Haha, which time, Daron?) Being obsessed with music is my reason for living so maybe obsessed isn’t quite the right word for that. It’s one thing to be focused, to be driven to do something…
Let’s argue about art later. Right now I’m trying to figure something out about my mother.
Obsession isn’t the right word here, either. But if you think she didn’t weigh on my mind, I’ve fooled you even better than I fooled myself. I had told myself the minute I had walked out that door six years ago that that was it, done. I was out of her life, she was out of mine, and we’d both be happier that way. So I literally didn’t think about her for a long time. Her or Digger for a while there.
I think back on that first year in music school. Remo was out of my life then, too. I was completely cut free. I put my head down and plowed into school. I’d placed into a tonal counterpoint class because I’d aced the ear training exam. But because I hadn’t had college-level music theory yet, I was in over my head from the very first day. I also started a core arranging class at the same time and I had a performance requirement to meet–which for a guitar student meant both private lessons in classical guitar and joining a chamber ensemble. I hated a lot of things about conservatory experience, including being sneered at by other students for not fitting in, but I loved it at the same time. It was like playing a challenging video game on the very hard setting and the only way to get better at it is to just keep going at it. Every time you die you just jump back in, and the more stuff it throws at you the more excited you get and the harder you have to play. The more obstacles come up you just have to keep knocking them down. By the end of the semester I had caught up in music theory and was speeding past second and third year students (who just resented me even more) because I thrived on the challenge.
Wait, I said I wasn’t going to talk about art. Apparently I can’t avoid the subject, though. Okay, the point is it’s very satisfying to keep knocking stuff down when it comes up. In school, like in video games, there’s a plan. The stuff comes at you in a known fashion. By my second semester I was knocking shit down like a kung fu master.
Thank god for Bart, though. On the musical side that year grew me from a child prodigy to a fully functional musician. On the personal side, well, you remember how deeply repressed I was when Remo found me.
The thing is, all of that rapid growth as a musician took place during the point when I had no parental figures in my life. I think that was important. It was important to me becoming who I am even if I wasn’t progressing much toward becoming a fully functional human being yet.
And at the point where I was in the shower starting to hyperventilate thinking about being face to face with Claire again for the first time since I was a teenager? Was I a fully functional human being at that point? Well, even if I wasn’t, I was a helluva lot further along than I had been six years before, but unlike in school–or in video games–in life there’s no set plan. There’s no script. There was no guaranteed outcome even if I said or did all the “right” things.
I think I was terrified that somehow talking to her was going to undo everything. Like time was going to spool backwards, the sun was going to set in the east, and I was going to find myself trapped in one of those nightmares where I’m back in high school.
Remo’s voice from outside the shower stall.
“One sec,” I shouted. Was I going to be such a coward that I was going to let him face her alone? No, I was not. Ideals of masculinity may be bullshit but this was one situation where I felt I truly needed to “man up.”
I still had no idea what I was going to say to her. I wasn’t going to do something idiotic like try to call her out about a million petty injuries she’d done to me over the years or ask her what the fuck she was thinking when…
No. Not going there. That’s time moving backwards again. “Be out in a sec,” I called again. The water was too hot and I turned it down a little to stick my head under again. I made sure I actually got the soap out of my hair and then climbed gingerly out into the dressing area. These were small private showers, not like the locker rooms we sometimes had at sports arenas. I toweled off, threw on clean jeans and a tank top while still half-damp, pawed some gel through my hair and just shook my hair out by leaning over and shaking like a dog. Can’t remember who taught me that if you stand up fast and flip your hair straight back you can just let it dry that way. At least if you have hair like mine. And you’re a rock star or don’t mind looking like one.
Remo was standing right outside the door. Despite the heat he was in dusty brown boots, jeans, two shirts and his fawn-colored denim jacket. Straight out of a pickup truck commercial, you know? “She’s in the press room,” he said. He took a flask out of his pocket and took a swig.
Remember what I said about my brain not working right when it’s being weighed down? He handed it to me without thinking. I took it without thinking and took a swig myself. The familiar burn of Knob Creek. I handed it back.
Thus fortified, I followed him down the hall. There was a roadie standing outside the door like we were keeping a dangerous prisoner under guard. Remo turned the knob himself and in we went.
Claire was standing in the middle of the room, spine straight, feet together and hands clasped like she was about to burst into song. She had that unreadable smile on her face. Her dark hair–same color as mine–was artfully curled despite the humidity. There was no sign of Court.
I held my breath while she made the decision to engage with Remo first. She threw her hands in the air like a wide V as she took three quick steps toward him, saying, “Remy!” And then a few quick words in French (French?? Remy??) as she clapped her palms to his jowls and pulled him in to kiss one cheek and then the other. “It’s been so long.”
“Yes it has. Claire,” he said with a nod. “I brought Daron with me.”
I practically vibrated out of my shoes as she took another step to me and gave me a kind of playful? faux slap on the upper arm like she was…wordlessly scolding me about my tattoo? I guess? “Your sister’s told me all about you. I’m so glad you passed this way.”
This was when I was supposed to say something, right? Hi, Mom? What words were supposed to come out here? I managed two actual words: “Um, me, too.”
I remember one other thing she said. I’m pretty sure these actual words came out of her mouth. I don’t think I dreamed it: “The show was magnificent.”
And then a wave of nausea and pain exploded in my head and I really can’t tell you who said what after that. Remember when the doctor told me that noise, lights, and stressful situations might aggravate my concussion? Guess which thing turned out to bother me the most? (I guess all things considered it was still better that I could tolerate light and noise, though, given my line or work, right?) Or maybe it wasn’t the concussion at all. Maybe it was that nip of alcohol mixed with the lingering Vitamin F in my system. Wait. Why am I saying or? It was most likely the combination of all those things.
That is, if we want to blame it on something other than just me being me and Claire being my mother.
I woke up in the bus with my head in Courtney’s lap. I was lying along the long lounge seat and everything was quiet. It was dark and we were not moving.
“Um,” I said.
She was petting my hair. “You awake now?”
“I think so.”
“You’ve been mumbling randomly for a while but your eyes were still shut. Another five minutes and we were going to be on the way to the ER.”
“Huh. Did I say anything interesting?”
“No.” She swallowed.
I breathed carefully. “What happened?”
“I think your concussion flared up.”
“No, no, I figured that out already. I meant after that.”
“Uh, you’ll have to ask Remo for the details when he gets back from driving her back to her place.” Court grimaced. “I was supposed to, but I felt I oughtta stay with you as an apology.”
I gave her what is about as close to an accusing look as I can get. I’m not very good at it. I think I mostly looked like a kicked puppy.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I thought it was just an expression! I didn’t think seeing her would actually make your head explode.”
Well, you know what they say. Live and learn, live and learn.