Sometimes writing is all there is…ignore all the rest and keep at it. Still just bare storytelling – no proofing or other editing.
OutBound – Second Fragment
The first morning out, sitting on a windless sea maybe thirty miles north of San Diego, I sat and took inventory of my life. There was nothing else to do, you see. In my rush to leave I realized I’d not put a single book on board, and the only music I had on board, other that my little guitar, was a shortwave radio. I realized I’d have to stop in San Diego to fix these omissions, or turn around and return to Newport – something I really didn’t want to do.
When Troubadour and I cast our lines off the night before, when we motored past Lido Isle, then Harbor and Linda Islands, then, finally, Little Balboa Island, I couldn’t help but think of Jenn. Jenn, locked away in her madness. Jenn and her razor blades. And when I passed her father’s house I had seen him standing in his living room looking at me as I passed.
Did he know Troubadour was mine? Did he realize who was passing by his house? Did he understand his role in our little drama? In my little corner of the universe he was my Nixon, I a kind of McGovern by proxy. He hated me not least of all because I’d voted for McGovern, while he was a staunch Nixonian, and I liked to chide him about Watergate and all that told us about modern Republicans. He’d counter with endless jibes about Democrats being socialists, and worse, while I referred to Goldwater Republicans, like him, as fascist John Birchers. Which he was. When he told me once he thought the free speech protestors at Berkeley should have been rounded up and shot, and that Edwin Meese had privately agreed with him, I saw a smug pride in the man’s eyes that haunted me for years. He was a Nazi and didn’t even seem to care what that meant.
Jenn, of course, struggled with the dichotomy presented to her. She loved her father but the longer she remained in school, the longer she studied philosophy the more she understood what her father really was. And pretty soon he realized he was spending his money to turn his daughter against his own ideals, and I think that set up the final conflict between them. Rather that let her grow, I think he began to undermine her – at first in intellectual arguments, and then, when that didn’t work, through emotional attacks.
Jenn, I think, fell into that trap. And it was a trap. There was no way to win, for her, anyway, and the only way he could win was to destroy her. And he did, but you’d have to be sick to call that a victory – by any measure.
About halfway through that first night I realized I couldn’t break free of all this toxicity by myself. I needed other people around me in this endeavor, and I’d need to find those voices in books, in music. I’d need to be able to pull into a new anchorage and get ashore, find local music and listen, really listen to voices of anger and love, of resistance and submission. If this trip turned into a series of angry flights the time would be pointlessly spent. If, on the other hand, I tuned in and listened with my musician’s heart there was a chance I could learn something valuable, and quite possibly share what I learned with people who might listen.
The wind fell away and then the sea took a deep sigh and was still, leaving a black mirror alive with dancing starlight. We, Troubadour and I, drifted by a massive kelp bed and I saw a sea lion poke it’s head out of the tangled mass of starlight and stare at me as we drifted by. I wanted to dive in and play with it, to live in it’s world for a minute or two, understand what concerned him or her as it went about it’s business in the darkness. Find dinner, I reckoned, without becoming something bigger’s dinner. Elemental exigencies. Kill or be killed. That was life, wasn’t it? That’s what civilization had tried to tame. All our laws, all our frail moralities…those things kept nature away, and nature, true nature, has always been all about the most basic type of survival. Find food and keep from being killed in the process.
That seal was hiding in the kelp because something bigger than he was out there in the darkness, circling, waiting for the opportunity to sprint in and eat him. Just like me, I thought. Out here on Troubadour, running, hiding, trying to turn this into a noble mission to enlighten civilization while I ran from Jenn and her razor blades. While I tried to hide from images of Deni as she fluttered down to the dark embrace of death.
It’s funny, the things that run through your mind in the last minutes of darkness, just before the sun rises, a few miles offshore. You can see houses on bluffs above beaches, sleeping people just coming to the sun while you look at the processes of civilization from afar. When you cut the cord and sail away you begin to distance yourself from all those routines, from all those laws and moral constructs that define your existence ashore. But when you sail along the periphery you really feel that ‘apartness.’ You feel it in your bones, like you’ve set yourself adrift and the purpose may or may not be revealed to you.
And then I really realized this was my first time out on the water by myself.
And I didn’t like this being alone thing.
So I turned on the motor and advanced the throttle, made for the entrance channel to San Diego. By mid-morning I was tied up on Shelter Island; a half hour later I was eating eggs Benedict on a deck overlooking the water, so deep inside the gut of civilization it made me giddy. I walked to a yard after brunch and asked about radios, maybe one with a cassette deck? No problem, they told me. They could have it in by evening.
That, too, is civilization. Ask and ye shall receive. Just hand over the gold and run to the bookstore. We’ll take care of the details while you go spend some more money.
So…I went to all the bookstores I could in five hours, came back to Troubadour with piles of books and tapes, and I stowed them while workmen rounded out the radio installation, then I went back out for dinner, and I made my way down to an upscale steak place.
“So, what could I get you to drink?” the waitress asked.
“Something strong, something with rum.”
How about a Mai-Tai, she said. As long as it’s strong, says I. Not some watered down girly drink.
She looked at my shorts and boat shoes then.
“Coming, or going?” she asked.
“You just coming in from a trip, or about to head out?”
“A little of both,” I said, then I explained.
“Where’s your boat?”
“Right down there,” I pointed, and I could indeed just see Troubadour across the way, “the one with the blue hull.”
“Troubadour?” she asked. “I was looking at her earlier. She looks sweet.”
“I’d love to just sail away someday.”
“And where would you go?”
She put her hands over her eyes and pointed in some random direction: “That way!” she said, grinning, and I laughed with her before she took off and brought my medicinal strength rum and some bread. After she took my order, she pointed me in the direction of a truly colossal salad bar and disappeared, but a minute later she dropped by again.
“So, where are you headed?” she asked.
“When you leavin’?”
“In the morning.”
“Want some company?”
“Have a passport?”
“Maybe you ought to drop by after you get off tonight.”
Surreal? I know.
Random, almost to the point of silliness? Oh yeah.
Ah, but her name was Jennifer. Of course. It had to be.
Jennifer – of Appleton, Wisconsin. Jennifer – she of the bright smile and long legged Jennifers. Jennifer, who would in a matter of days become the love of my life, who would spend the next twenty one years glued to my side. There are chance encounters, random permutations of luck and timing, and then there was Jennifer. Jennifer ‘Do you have a passport’ Clemens. ‘Okay’ became a standing joke between us, the simplest word imaginable to set in motion an endless series of adventures. “There’s a volcano! Wanna race to the top?” – “Okay!”
If Jennifer of Newport was a morphine drip fed scowl, Jennifer of Appleton was a serene smile, an imperturbable, old world smile grounded in mid-western common sense. She was JFKs glass half full, she was two years in the Peace Corps after earning her RN. Best of all, she’d never heard of Electric Karma, and neither did she know who I was, or what I did – and it never mattered once she figured it out. She’d wanted to see the world, and in the beginning I was simply going her way. Her ticket to ride.
She’d been out on the bay a few times since she’d moved to San Diego the year before, ostensibly to get her master’s in nursing, but she’d fallen into a different vibe after she settled in with a group of nurses and decided to ‘go back to school.’ She didn’t know what she wanted to learn, only that learning was an imperative she couldn’t shake. She went to school days, worked tables at night, and spent weekends working at a free clinic – because that gave her the time and resources to do what she wanted. And what she wanted seemed to change from course to course – until what she really wanted was to break away and get out there.
And maybe there was something mercenary in our coming together. She’d planted her feet in a place and a time where sailors gathered before jumping off to the South Seas. Maybe her questions about where was I headed, and when was I leaving weren’t without purposes, or maybe now that she knew what she wanted she put herself in a position to get there. Maybe she would have been like an autumn leaf, blowing any way the wind blows – but she found her way to me.
Because I’d forgotten to pack a few books. Because I couldn’t play music on the boat.
Sometimes life turns on the silliest, most inconsequential things.
We put off leaving a day, only because that’s how long it took her to cut all the ties that bound her to life on shore, and when we slipped away that next morning I did so knowing this was almost a case of the blind leading the blind. I was not yet a deeply experienced sailor, and she was a neophyte, so we went slow. We sailed down to Ensenada, anchored out and rowed ashore, went to Hussong’s because that’s what everyone else did, then we made a longer trip south, to Guadelupe Island, about a third of the way down Baja, and after watching researchers diving with Great White we decided against swimming ashore.
We hemmed and hawed, debated whether we should go to Cabo San Lucas and top off the water tanks or just strike out, head for the Marquesas, and as I’d stowed dozens of bottles of water to go with what Troubadour carried in her tanks we opted for the latter. So, set a course of 210 degrees and stare ahead at 3000 miles of open water and what do you get?
I’d have, at one point, called it wedded bliss, but now I called it Jennifer Clemens.
We’d set the wind vane and let it steer for hours on end, and the most joyous times came with the dolphins who joined up from time to time. They came up from behind one morning and zinged alongside, playing in Troubadour’s bow wave and, as she has a tremendous bow-sprit Jennie lay up there, her hand outstretched, and every now and then one would spring up, let her take a touch on the fly, and those close encounters seemed to energize her. She’d come back to the cockpit with this look in her eye and I’d wrap myself within her arms and legs for a few hours. The second time that happened I looked up, saw we had an audience and I wondered what they thought of us. Were we really so different?
A great Atlantic storm entered the Caribbean, then crossed Panama and Nicaragua and made it’s way into the Pacific, and though it tracked north of us them remnants hit us, and hit us hard. It was my first real storm at sea, yet Troubadour was built, like the Westsail, to handle these conditions – and she did, with ease – and after the storm’s passage we both felt a surge of confidence.
The net result? We began to talk about ‘what comes next?’ Both for this voyage, and for us. I felt bonded to Jennie after that storm, like she was apart of me now. Like that otherworldly loneliness I’d felt off the coast of La Jolla was truly a thing of my past, and now Jennie was my future. And I told her that, in no uncertain terms.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
“Spend my life with you.”
“Does that mean what I hope it means?”
So, right out there in the middle of nowhere, with only God standing as our lone, mute witness, we said what words we remembered and pledged to take care of one another ‘til death do us part. It was really that simple. Even if marriage is a civilizational construct, I felt real comfort over the years knowing she had my back, and that I had her’s, too. Yes, that’s odd, but yes, that’s being human. We weren’t meant to make this journey alone, yet the most staggering thing was how I knew she was the one within minutes of meeting her.
When she came down to Troubadour that night she was still in her uniform, a short little dress with black tights under, a white blouse with a red vest over, and while she looked the boat over I looked her over. We talked for a few hours about the road she’d taken to San Diego, and where she hoped it would lead next, and the more she talked the more comfortable I grew with her voice. She might have looked flakey on first glance but really, she was anything but. She was as grounded as anyone I’d ever known, yet grounded to the beat of a different drummer.
I fell asleep with my head in her lap, and she was still with me when I woke up six hours later. When I slipped up and fixed coffee she woke and looked at me.
“So, you really want to do this?” she asked.
“Yup. Can’t imagine doing it without you.”
Yes. Life really can be that simple. You just have to open your heart at let it in.
Three thousand miles at a hundred and forty miles a day is 21 days, and my celestial nav was spot on so we nailed it, sailed into Taioha’e and cleared customs, then anchored out in an unexpectedly easygoing euphoria.
“We did it,” I sighed.
She snuggled in and didn’t move for an hour, and then I heard her easy breathing, her gentle sleeping, and I settled in beside her for the duration.
I know this is marks a departure from the flow of things, but we walked ashore a day later and found a small Catholic church, Jennifer being an Episcopalian and all, and we asked the guy with the white collar to do the whole marriage thing for real. No paperwork, mind you, just say the words before God I think you’d have to say, and he did and for some reason we felt for real after that. She took my name, a nice German-Jewish name, and jettisoned her Wasp-British name and she called her folks back home – who had no idea she’d left San Diego, mind you – and told them the news.
Major freak out ensued, by the way, and her folks told us they’d like to come to Tahiti to meet me, and to let them know when. Then we took off to do some grocery shopping.
Just like grocery shopping in the Marquesas was surreal.
No supermarkets, especially not in the early seventies, and very few tourists to get in your way. Want a new alternator belt for your Volvo Penta diesel engine? Say the words ‘fat chance’ three times as fast as you can. Then try backwards. Yup, it was about that easy. Fed Ex hadn’t quite figured out how to spell Marquesas back in 73-74, which meant an alternator belt would come by sea. Like maybe by copra schooner out of Papeete. I had a spare, of course, but what if that one cut loose? I needed a spare to replace my spare, and it looked like that would have to wait a few thousand miles, but I did find a mechanic savvy enough to locate the alignment issue causing the belt to wear prematurely. Problem solved, lesson learned and filed away on a 3×5 card – with notes and drawings attached.
Long distance sailing has been justly described as sailing to exotic ports and doing extensive maintenance, and after fifty years I can say I’ve pulled apart more engines in obscure places than I’d ever care to admit. I’ve replaced Troubadour’s original engine four times in fifty years, too. I maintain the things, do all the fluid changes at twice the most conservative intervals – like changing engine oil after every fifty hours of use – but I don’t run my engines often and the salt water environment simply kills them faster with little use. Yes, that’s correct. Marine engines are cooled with seawater, one way or another, even so-called fresh-water cooled engines, and salt kills metal, period. So, rule number one: shit don’t last and it’s got to be replaced. That’s why sailing is described as standing in a cold shower – ripping up hundred dollar bills just for the sheer fun of it. That’s the nuts and bolts, but here’s the grease: the more you can do yourself the more affordable sailing becomes. The corollary? When you pay someone else to do the work, about 90% of the time the work is poorly done – or just plain wrong, leading to more expensive repairs. When we made New Zealand a year or so later, I took a diesel mechanics course; it was the best six week I ever spent – in terms of saving money. I still have zero interest in engines, but I’ve always had tons of interest in saving money.
Anyway, Jennie was as good as her word. She wanted to explore. She wanted to meet people. And Jennie was an RN. A real, honest to Pete nurse. When word got out she was an RN someone from the local hospital came down and asked if she would mind working on Hiva Oa at a clinic for a month or so. She looked at me and I shrugged ‘why not’, and off we went. There wasn’t a doc at the clinic there, it turned out, and she was doing front line work under a docs supervision – by radio – and she loved it, had never been happier. One month turned to two, then three, then her replacement – from France – finally turned up and we were free again.
Rangiroa was out next stop, inside the northeast pass by the village of Tiputa, and we stood by and watched Jacques Cousteau and Calypso maneuver into the lagoon and drop anchor a few hours after we had – and about a hundred feet away – and Jennie wound up working on the boat for two weeks while Cousteau & Co dove on the reefs just outside the pass. One night we heard Electric Karma’s second album blaring over an onboard hi-fi and when the crew found out the next day who Jennie’s main squeeze was we had a blowout on the beach that night that was truly epic. We became good friends and ran into Calypso several times over the next decade or so, yet that experience came to define most of the people we ran across out there. After a few months we both realized we’d be running into these same people time and again – because we were all like minded explorers on the same path. We might not see John and Jane for a few months, but then there they’d be, in some out of the way anchorage no one had heard of before, and we’d exchange information and ideas, maybe some rum, too, then be on our separate ways.
During the three months we spent on Hiva Oa I got this Paul Gauguin thing going and started painting. Yeah, Gauguin spent most of his time in the Pacific on the island, and yeah, you could buy art supplies there. So I did. An old French gal taught me the basics and I started painting, and I’ve not stopped once since. When he dropped the hook someplace nice I’d start sketching everything interesting, and in time we began searching out anchorages simply because they had scenic appeal. By the time we hit Papeete I was running out of places to store canvases.
Because of the time Jennie had worked on Hiva Oa all sorts of bonds and fees were waived in Tahiti, and we were extended the offer to spend more time in Moorea, in the village of Papetō’ai, if she’d work for another month. Okay, look at pictures of Cook Inlet on Moorea, then factor that getting a permit to anchor there was next to impossible, then hit enter. Now, you’ve just been given a permit to anchor there as long as Jennie was working there, plus a month. Free, as in no charge. We ended up anchored by a waterfall – for six months. I shipped fifty canvases back to LA; when my lawyer saw them she asked if she could buy a couple. Then she told me she had shown them to a gallery owner. They wanted to represent me. Please send more, they said. Bigger is better.
I already thought life couldn’t possibly get any better than this – and now please paint more? A month later word came that thirty plus paintings had sold, and the next time I sent in a batch I’d better count on returning to LA for a dedicated showing.
Then the inevitable happened.
Jennie’s parents, and two of her three sisters, announced their coming to Tahiti to meet the latest member of the family. And the two sisters were huge Electric Karma fans.
Oh happy day.
So, I rented a house for them to sleep in, and figured we’d take them sailing on the days Jennie had off, and on the day of their arrival we got on a Twin Otter at Temae and hopped across the channel to Papeete.
Warren Clemens looked like he’d been called up by Central Casting to play the part of a midwestern preacher with an attitude problem. Problem is, looks can be deceiving. Warren was a hard drinking ex-Marine with a serious deranged sense of humor. He was also a physician, a skilled general surgeon who taught at the medical school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He was also a Green Bay Packers fanatic. I mean a real fanatic, not some half-assed wannabe. And as soon as Warren learned his baby girl was working at the local clinic he had to go see what she was up to.
And yeah, you guessed this one already, didn’t you?
As soon as they leaned he was this hot shot surgeon some kid gets pulled off a reef after a white tip reef shark tried to eat his legs off, and the kid’s half dead by the time they get him to the clinic. No way he’ll make it to Papeete. If only we had a surgeon here?
And there goes mild-mannered Clark Kent into the phone booth, emerging seconds later in his red cape as Super Surgeon, to save the day. Yeah, he saved the kid’s life. Yeah, he did an appendectomy three days later. Then gall stones, then he repaired and set a compound fractured femur. Another appendectomy followed – and, mind you, he wasn’t getting paid for any of this – and he was having the time of his life. Long story short, for the next eight years Warren and his wife, the first mother I’d ever really known, came back to Moorea and he volunteered for two months at a stretch. He stopped coming – eight years later – only because he died; there’s a chapel in the forest overlooking Cook Inlet named after him. He’s buried there, and so is his wife, and my wife too, for that matter.
Mind you, all this happened because I forgot to pack some books on Troubadour. I mean, are you following along with the chorus here? It’s why my next solo album was called Serendipity, why a butterfly sneeze in Tibet comes across the Pacific as a typhoon. Everything is part of an endless chain of cause and effect, so trying to find the root cause for something is as pointless as asking what happened before the Big Bang. Who the devil knows? And who cares? It’s pointless and silly to ask the question, and Buddhists are on the right track when they say: accept what is. If you can’t handle that, go get an enema, flush your brain and get right with God. You ain’t gonna know, so chill out and paint another picture.
Warren’s two week trip stretched out to three, and he wept when he left.
Okay, enough about Warren. Let me introduce you to Michelle. My mother. Well, you know what I mean.
Michelle liked to play cards. She also taught physics. Quantum mechanics, to be more accurate. She was one of a handful of women to work at Oak Ridge – on the Manhattan Project. To say she was smart was like calling Einstein a bright kid. To say Jennie came from the deep end of the gene pool was scary. Scary because she was serving steaks at a waterfront restaurant in San Diego, waiting for me to come along. What if I’d gone to a bookstore in Westwood?
Michelle also liked to paint. Watercolors. Nothing but, and usually simple flowers. She taught me, and I was hooked. We spend hours walking off into the forests around the inlet and she’d find something new, sketch the rough outlines then pull out this monster Nikon F and start shooting away, getting just the colors she needed down on Kodachrome 25 for later reference.
Meet my new sisters, Niki and Taylor. Both into music. Both teaching music. Both in love with the idea of me, before they met me. Both went nuts after spending a few days with us on Troubadour. We spent evenings on the boat cooking and talking shop, then I’d pull out the old backpacker and start playing through the newest ideas, sounding my way through the classics and bridging the divide to rock, and they were all abuzz about Yes and ELP and Pink Floyd, and I hadn’t heard Dark Side of the Moon yet. Niki set me straight, and Us and Them became my new favorite when we found a cassette in Papeete a week later.
There are jagged spires around the island, some of the most inspiring peaks I’ve ever seen, yet many lack perspective unless seen from the sea, particularly along the west side of the island. We circumnavigated Moorea, slowly, over a two day period, and I should have bought Kodak stock before we set out: I don’t know how many rolls we blew through. Hundreds? Maybe. It was nonstop – blow through 36 exposures then dash below to rewind and reload – and as I’d never seen this before I was just as pathetic, just as consumed. My only regret? I shot Ektachrome as there was no place to get Kodachrome developed out here, and some of the slides were fading fast by the time Jennie passed.
Still, some of my most cherished memories were captured during those three weeks. As I’ve mentioned, I’d not had a mother and father, let alone sisters, and now by golly I did. I would have fallen in love with them, all of them, simply for that reason, but they turned out to be really fun, really interesting people, and all of a sudden life felt complete. To put is succinctly, I’d not felt this good since Electric Karma’s heyday – and no stage fright, too. A year away and life was evolving into the sleigh ride, not a care in the world and everything was just easy.
Of course, shit had to hit the fan. It just had to.
And it hit from an unexpected direction.
Terry. My ‘grandmother.’ She’d married and divorced an old English movie star and was now simply destitute. He’d bled her dry and walked away, walked into the arms of a younger, more economically productive actress, and Terry was about as low as a human being could get when she got word to me through my lawyer that she needed help. I bought her a ticket from New York City to Papeete and she arrived two days before the Clemens clan was due to leave. By the time she got to Troubadour I’d told them my grandmother was coming, but not who she was, so when Terry McKay showed up onboard Warren clammed up tight, Michelle tried to act nonchalant – but failed, and the girls gushed. All in all, it was exactly what Terry needed. She was entranced by Moorea and I made an offer on the house I’d rented, bought it outright and she moved it – with the understanding that we’d all consider the place kind of a home base going forward. When local officials heard they had a genuine Hollywood legend in their midst…well, let’s just say they were very supportive of the idea. Warren was still tongue-tied every time he was around her, though.
We said our byes at the local airport, and as I said, Warren was a basket case. The experience had been as draining as it was fulfilling, and I hugged Michelle and the girls in a way that said everything. I was happy. They were too.
Terry was beside herself, of course. She and destitute were not on good terms, and I talked to my lawyer who talked to some people at Universal who talked to – yada-yada-yada – and she had an audition if she could get to it. She said she couldn’t, she wasn’t strong enough.
Could she if I went with her?
So off we went. We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a first for me, because she had to ‘keep up appearances.’ The studio picked her up and went to visit my gallery, dropped off a few new canvases. Visited my friend at Pop’s house, then my lawyer, and by the time I got back to the hotel Terry was in the room, out of her mind with anxiety. She wouldn’t hear for a week or so, and if she prevailed her presumed co-star would be none other than her ex.
“Let’s leave tomorrow,” she cried.
“Let me make a few calls,” I replied.
She got the part and her ex was passed over, the part going to David Niven instead, and she was suddenly ecstatic and destitute no more. Shooting would begin in two months so we returned to Moorea, and as I had a real workspace to set up a studio I started painting. Huge canvases this time, like six by ten feet, and this series was all Moorea, all misty mountains and rain forests full of furiously blooming flowers. Terry and I started walking the forests, she started photographing flowers and soon got into it, then she too wanted to learn watercolors and when I passed word along to Michelle she was over the moon too. Next summer would be fun, I reckoned, assuming Warren did lose Michelle due to his obvious infatuation with Terry. I mean…Peyton Place, anyone?
Jennie was the one who picked up on Terry’s infatuation with me.
I’d never seen it before, obviously, but then again neither had Jenn. Jennie, on the other hand, was adroit at picking up these things. She read people and didn’t miss much, and she could spot a phony in two seconds. Terry was a phony. Insecure, not really talented but cute as hell. She was, in Jennie’s mind’s eye, a pretender. Terry’d made it this far on her looks alone, and her ability to enchant men, and that was why, Jennie guessed, the old Englishman had ditched her. He’d seen through the bullshit and moved on. Jennie doubted the guy had swindled her, too; more likely she’d try to buy the guy off, keep him interested by buying him things. Classic, she said. Now she’d turned her attention on me – because I was safe. Because I’d give her all the attention she needed. Because of Pops. She was taking advantage of me.
Yeah. Maybe. I wasn’t buying it quite yet, but I could see her point. Regardless, she’d been a part of my life for years, some of the most important years of my life, and I wasn’t going to turn my back on her. If I had justification to call her family, then where’s the line between taking advantage and doing one’s duty.
Funny thing, that. I’d never talked to Jennie about Jenn. Jenn and her razor blades, and for some reason I decided to that day. I ran down the whole sordid chronology, from the toxic relationship with her dad to the last attempt, and the abortion, in Vancouver.
She was appalled.
Mainly, I think, that we’d not talked about it before. That led to a talk about abortion. We both hated the idea of it, but we both supported the idea that it was ultimately a woman’s right to choose. No big deal so far, right? So why had I, in effect, ditched Jenn when she decided to have an abortion?
Because, I said, I considered that child ‘ours,’ not ‘hers’ – and by taking unilateral action to take that child from me she was declaring in the starkest possible terms I wasn’t part of her life.
“But she’s ill, Aaron. Couldn’t you see that?”
“But she was considered well enough to make that kind of decision? If she was well enough to consider the implications of ending a life, why wasn’t she considered well enough to take her own? I don’t get all these moral inconsistencies. They don’t make sense. How is it okay to kill a baby at four weeks but not at four months. I don’t get it…?”
“But still you think it’s okay if the mother wants to?”
“I think it’s wrong to butt into other people’s lives.”
“But it was okay to force her into having that baby, because it was yours, too? But you were not going to carry that baby, were you? Or care for that baby if you two split? Maybe she was never secure enough in the relationship to think you’d always be there? After you split up in Honolulu, went back to LA…do you think she felt real secure about things?”
“I was disappointed, but we never talked about splitting…”
“Oh, come on Aaron. How do you think she felt? And then she’s trapped on the boat with the one man in the world who was bound to torment, then abandon her – again. And what do you do? You abandon her, too? So yeah, why bring a kid into that world? What else is she gonna think? Her life has been one threat and abandonment after another, and all you did was validate her fears.”
I looked away, looked at a mist-enshrouded mountain across the inlet, and I could see Troubadour sitting comfortably at anchor beneath the rolling fog. Immediately I wanted to get out to her, pull up that anchor and set sail, head to New Zealand…hell, why not Antarctica? I could just keep on going, because circles never end, do they? Electric Karma was not supposed to end like that, but we were aborted, weren’t we? Five kids’ lives snuffed out by an air traffic controllers little mistake, another hundred kids’ lives ended by carelessness – so run away.
I didn’t sit with Jenn and try to help her reason things out. I ran away. I tossed an ultimatum in her lap like a hand grenade, then I ran from her room. I needed to run away, didn’t I? I didn’t fulfill me end of the bargain with Electric Karma. I ran away. Ran back to Pops, but I left them in Cleveland and they died. I should have ended when Deni and my mates did. But I ran. When Pops needed me most, when he got sick, I ran. I ran to Deni and my mates.
I was running in circles. I had nowhere to go, nothing important to do, so I was running in the mist, running into mountains of guilt – and trying to paint pretty pictures of my aborted life. What life? The life my parents wanted. Oh yeah, those parents. The parents I never knew. Had I been running ever since? And had they been running? Away from me? Away from their responsibilities to me?
So…what was out there before the Big Bang? What’s on the other side of that sky? What would happen if you put all the matter in the universe into a suitcase, then waved a magic wand, said a few magic words and poof – you made the suitcase disappear. What would be left?
Like running in the night, hiding from answers. Running in circles. Running into endless answers in search of their question.
So, I painted for a few months, helped Terry read through her lines – and this was comfortable for us; it was something I’d helped her do since forever. I still felt close to her, still liked to bask in her glow, and when it was time we flew to LA together. I dropped off some paintings at the gallery, sat on the soundstage and watched David and Terry work some screen magic, and I sat in the Polo Lounge every afternoon and watched people watching Terry, still proud of her for being so beautiful.
And I called Jenn’s dad, asked how she was doing.
“Why are you asking me?” he said. “Why don’t you call her. Why don’t you ask her what’s going on?”
“Because I’m asking you.”
“It’s a struggle, Aaron. I’m finding out more and more about her life. About the role I played in this, and I’m not happy. Are you happy, Aaron?”
“No, I can’t imagine why you would be.”
“Should I try to see her while I’m here?”
“No. No, I can’t see that doing her any good now, but for the life of me I don’t know why you don’t come down and see your daughter.”
I think the word is thunderstruck.
“My – daughter?”
“Yes, your daughter.”
What followed lasted a half hour or so. I told him my version of events, he told me his. I told him I’d call my lawyer in the morning. He said that was fine with him. I hung up the phone, suddenly more concerned than anything else in the world that I had a baby girl – and she was being raised by that monster. I called the clinic on Moorea, left a message for Jennie to call me as soon as she got in. I went to Terry’s room in our bungalow out back and told her. She was aghast. I was sure Jennie would be, too, then, on a lark, I called my lawyer’s number – and she picked up.
She was working late, she said, on a big case going to trial in the morning, and I asked if she had a minute to listen to something important. She did, and I told her all I knew. Could she help, I asked. What do you want out of this, she wanted to know. Because if it’s raising a kid on a boat vs with her grandparents in a house in Newport Beach, you’re going to lose. I want to know why no one ever told me, I said. Well, she said, you left, didn’t you? Because, I said, she told me she’d had an abortion! Why am I the bad guy here, I wanted to know.
She listened, I could hear her taking notes and she asked me to give her a few days, then she’d get on it, highest priority.
I thanked her and let her go, then turned to Terry.
“What do you want, Aaron? When all is said and done, what do you want?”
And then I noticed she was laying out on the bed dressed like a lingerie model, right down to the five inch heels.
“What do you need, Aaron?” she said again, rolling over, spreading her legs just a little.
“What are you doing, Terry?”
“I’m going to give you what you need. What you’ve needed for a long, long time.”
“I don’t need this, Terry. Not now, not ever.”
“You’re wrong, Aaron. You’ve wanted me for as long as I’ve known you, and don’t deny it.”
“There’s a big difference between wanting and needing.”
“Not tonight, there isn’t.”
She stood and walked over to me, and really, I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. She was an irresistible force, as gorgeous as any woman alive – and she’d baited her trap and waited for me to fall into her grasp. Now she had me, and she knew it. That night was the most sensuously vacuous I ever spent in my life, at once meaningless and as fraught with surreal consequence as any I ever enjoyed. When our night was over, she told me, it was over, but I remembered Jennie’s admonishments and knew it would never be over now.
I was back in my room when Jennie called, and I told her about my daughter and current circumstances vis my lawyer’s inferences.
“What do you want to do?” she asked. “Bring her out here?”
“That would be ideal, but the Shelly says that living on the boat…”
“That’s bullshit,” Jennie said. “There are kids on half the boats we run into out here, and beside, you have a house here, remember?”
“I forgot to mention that.”
“What about you? What do you think about all this?”
“I think you should try for some sort of joint custody. You take her now, and when Jenn is better you revert to some more traditional sharing structure.”
“That’s not what I mean. What about you? How would you feel about having her around?”
“Me? I’d love it, but it seems to me the biggest thing is to get her away from Jenn’s father.”
“So, how’s LA?”
“The same, only worse.”
“I watched Terry and David on the soundstage yesterday. They look good together.”
“Aaron, she’d look good with Hitler.”
I laughed. Maybe a little too much. “You got that right.”
“How are you, Aaron? You sound weird.”
“I couldn’t sleep. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“I’ll let you know when I hear something…”
So yes, a lie can be an act or omission, can’t it? And I had just lied, maybe the biggest lie of my life, to the most important woman in my life. And a few minutes later in walks Terry, still dressed to the nines, still hungry. And still I couldn’t say no to her. She was a cannibal, feasting on indecision – and she was hungry.
And maybe I wasn’t running in circles, I thought later that day. Maybe my circles were running after me, and I wasn’t moving fast enough to get out of their way. Then I remembered that sea lion in the drifting kelp. All those things I imagined circling in the night. Kill or be killed.
And then I realized I didn’t even know my daughter’s name.
This fragment (c) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com