Bart’s face was stony calm but his voice wavered as he said “Do you mind telling me what the fuck is going on with you?”
‘Fuck’ hit me like a mic pop and I flinched. My hair hung in sweaty strings down my face and I slid to the floor, my legs crossed under me. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t figure out where to put my hands. My heart was pounding and I stuffed my hands under my arms and rocked back and forth. “Bart…”
“Is it your father? Is that what it is? We never should have–”
“It’s not my father.” That sounded so weird: my father. I put my hands on my knees and repeated it, still rocking, words coming out of my mouth too too fast. “It’s not my father. Maybe, maybe it was at first. I mean, maybe I got a little nervous with him around…”
“A little nervous!” Bart started to get up and then crossed his legs as he planted himself in the chair again. “You… okay, if it’s not him, what is it.”
I kept looking at the spot on the floor in front of me. I couldn’t catch my breath and my heart felt like a fist was squeezing it. Panic attack. “It’s everything.”
“Daron, give me something I can work with here. What can I do?”
“Nothing, there’s nothing you can do.” I wanted to lie down where I was and wait for everything to pass over me, wait for the feeling of the storm and churning to subside. “I’ve just lost it, that’s all. It’s just gone.”
“The…” I didn’t have words for it. Even trying to put words on it felt like a jinx to me, as if by describing it I’d make it stop working. But it had already stopped working. So I forged on. “You know how when you’re a little kid, you go do something incredibly exciting, I don’t know, you go to a movie or your parents take you to an amusement park or something. And there’s this thing that happens, where you forget yourself?” Talking felt like vomiting does when you’re sick– awful but a painful kind of relief at the same time. “It’s like you’re so happy that it’s almost like a dream and you don’t even realize it until you wake up.” I dared to meet his eyes through the weeds of my hair and he was chewing his lip while he looked at me. “It’s like you go away, you’re in the magic place, until something brings you back.”
“Yeah, I guess,” he said.
“Don’t be saying that just to get me to go on.” I pulled my knees up, stage sweat chilling my neck and shoulders and making me shiver. “Do you know what I mean?”
“Like when you spent the day with your crazy uncle doing all kinds of cool stuff, but later when your mother asks you what you did, it’s like you can’t even remember.”
“Yes.” I’d never had a crazy uncle, but I suppose Bart did. “Yes, that’s it. It’s like you forget yourself, you’re there doing it, but you’re free somehow…”
“Like onstage,” he said then, suddenly dropping both feet to the ground and leaning toward me. “I can never really remember that later, either.”
My hands were shaking and I pressed them together. “Yeah. Stay with me on this one, Bart.” Now that I had started, I felt like if I didn’t tell someone I was going to fly apart into a million pieces. Unglued.
“So, picture me, growing up, and every time I had that feeling, someone or something, usually my mother, or my sisters, or my father making trouble, would yank me back in. And then I discovered a way that I could get away, that I could make it happen.” I held up my hands and looked at them. “Maybe, once in a while, I could get it just from listening… but I could always, always, do it by playing.” My hands clutched at the air and I buried them under my arms again. “So picture me, miserable kid, spending every waking hour I could playing. Yeah, okay, it wasn’t all bliss. I studied and I practiced and I learned new things. Because the better I got, the easier it got. The easier it got to let go.”
The door thumped behind Bart, who shouted, “Not now! We’re busy!”
The muffled sound of Digger’s voice came through, but not the words he was saying.
“In a minute!” Bart hollered then turned back to me. “I’m with you, man. Keep going.”
The floor was cold, and I was cold, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to say next. “Well, you get it.”
“This magic thing, this forgetting, letting go, that’s what you need.”
“I can’t play anymore, Bart. It doesn’t work anymore.”
“So what happened?”
“I was afraid that’s what you were going to say.” Another thud shook the door. I hid my face in my hands while he opened it, saying to whoever was out there, “Jeezus, what is your problem?”
Digger was there, I could hear the click of his expensive shoes on the concrete floor as he shuffled into the room with someone else. I looked up to see him holding Ziggy by the arm. My father pushed him onto the couch and stared down at the two of us like he’d caught us joyriding in my mother’s car or something. Family lecture time, I guess. Carynne tiptoed in behind him and closed the door.
“I….” Digger began, then threw up his hands. “I don’t know what to say.” (As I recall he had sucked at family lectures, and gave them up around the time we started sneaking out together.) “We’ve got a problem here, boys, and it ain’t something I can fix. I can only do so much. I need to know from you where this is going. I need to know if we’re going to cancel dates, or if this is a passing thing, you know?”
“Where’s Christian?” I said.
Carynne spoke from behind Digger. “He’s on the phone.”
I guess it wouldn’t have mattered what she said. My nerves weren’t going any farther that night, my energy wasn’t carrying me along one more second. I laid my arms across my knees and buried my face in them. I was always a crybaby as a kid. Realizing that right now tears were pouring out of my eyes and that I wasn’t going to be able to hide it for long only made me cry harder. I wasn’t sobbing, I wasn’t hiccuping. It was not a hysterical kind of cry, it was just that I’ve-sprung-a-fucking-leak kind of cry that I had no power to stop.
I was still crying when I put my head up and said, too loud, “I’m tired.” At least the panic was starting to subside. I no longer felt like my heart and lungs were going to pop.
Everyone did look at me, of course. I remembered for a moment that I could be in charge if I wanted to. I was amazed I could talk and cry at the same time. “We’re going back to the hotel. We’ll… we’ll have a meeting in the morning.”
Digger shot a glare at Ziggy but did not argue. No one said anything. I closed my eyes and sat there feeling the hot tears run down my neck and into my cold, damp shirt. The sounds of people packing around me came as if from far away. After a while I was alone in the room, and I stood up, and went out to the van.