Corcovado V

Corcovado 5

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars

Chapter V

He heard voices again, voices far away – as if on the far side of a dream. Scratchy voices lost in time, voices full of concern – and then he knew where he was.

Again.

The low tree-line in the distance, that same low, rocky escarpment – and the village beyond. Spreading fires lighting up the marsh as he falls from the sky, Tiger 509 tumbling through the swamp like a paper cup tossed from a passing car, gouts of fire erupting on the surface of the black swamp below his leg. The pain excruciating now, like something inside him is on fire. He knows if he looks down, looks at the onrushing earth inside the mottled red shadows under his boots he’ll see jagged shards of metal jutting from his leg…and there will be blood.

Then, he feels something on his forehead, something like a washcloth, cool and damp, and the muffled sounds of people talking again – far away – like voices in another room – and he wonders how this could possibly be – because he feels like he’s being pushed away from this life and, suddenly, those voices didn’t matter anymore.

++

“When did this happen? The first time, I mean?” the physician asked.

“It was in the early nineties, I think, after he came back from Iraq,” Ted said, looking back at the discarded memories of his childhood – like looking through the pages of a book that contained nothing but painful images. “His leg was pretty messed up, some kind of bacteria got into the wound, like in the space between the skin and the muscle, and it spread. My mom told me he nearly lost his right leg after they got him to Germany. But whatever it is, it’s come back several times since…two or three times that I can remember.”

“When was the last time?”

“Oh, I guess…maybe…three years ago. He went to the VA hospital in Seattle that time, I think, for some kind of special injections.”

“And it keeps coming back?” Melissa asked, clearly now concerned.

“It’s probably triggering some sort of autoimmune disorder at this point,” the physician said, shrugging as she looked around the boat. “You said he lives aboard? How long?”

“Not that long. Maybe nine months…not quite a year, anyway.”

“Humid down here, but I don’t see any signs of mold or mildew,” she sighed, as if talking to herself. “Well, whatever, with a temperature of 103 we’re going to have to get him back to a big hospital. I’ll call it in, have an air ambulance land outside the entrance. They can taxi right up to the boat, load him up right here. I think he should be taken straight to Vancouver, by the way. Be less paperwork than going to the US that way.”

“What about the boat?” Ted asked.

“Well, you’ll need to stay with him on the trip down; is there anyone who can remain aboard and keep an eye on things?”

“I can,” Melissa said, her voice now steady and calm – then, as she looked at Tracy there was an implied command in her voice.

“I guess I can, too,” Tracy added – though her voice was brimming with reluctance.

Ted turned, looked at Melissa, yet he could now see Tracy had been shaken by this unexpected turn of events – but that Melissa seemed steady as a rock. “I’ll go,” he said, “and get him checked-in, then I’ll turn around as fast as I can and come right back. Unless he’s released by then. I think we should try to take the boat back to Seattle…”

“The, what…the three of us?” Melissa asked, her voice full of alarm. “Do you think that’s…that he’d want you to do that?”

“What are the options?” Ted asked.

The physician chimed-in then: “There’s the town-dock, over in Whaletown. I know the Harbor Master, I could talk him into keeping an eye on her for a few weeks.”

Ted looked at the doctor, then at Melissa. “I don’t think so. This is my father’s home – and I’m not about to leave it sitting out here, unattended…”

“Well, think it over,” the doctor said, her voice a distant sigh. “If you could run me ashore now, I’ll call for an air ambulance, then we can send a nurse out to help you load him on the airplane. She’ll fly in with you to the hospital.”

Ted nodded and looked at his unconscious father again, then went topsides and helped the physician into the Zodiac. They motored off across the little cove to the store by the inlet, and he was back in a half hour – but Melissa was waiting for him on the swim platform, her arms crossed protectively across her breast, and he thought she was glowering at the world.

“Not quite what you signed up for, is it?” Ted said to her stony, fiercely expressionless eyes.

“Oh, it’s not that. I feel afraid, and yet I don’t really know why…”

“Afraid? Why…of what?”

“I don’t know, Ted. It’s hard to put my finger on it, ya know? But I feel a connection. It was, I don’t know why – or even how to say this – ” she said, suddenly almost gulping for air. “But I’ve felt a connection with your father since I saw him this morning…yet…”

“Yet? Just what are you trying to say?”

“I’ve felt drawn to this place for days…felt as if something, or someone, was pushing me to go to that bakery this morning, and when I saw your boat pull up to the dock, saw your father walking around down there I just knew I’d been summoned here, for a reason.”

“Summoned?” he said – warily.

“Yes. Like God wanted me to be here for some reason. Does that make any sense at all to you?”

He nodded his head as his stomach turned, then looked at the companionway hatch. “The plane should be here within an hour.”

“You should go pack some things, for both of you – just in case.”

He nodded, then turned and went below…but he stopped first – and stared at the sky for a moment, lost in the feeling that something was terribly wrong.

+

The girls, all of them save one, were slaves. It was as simple as that.

And Elizabeth, being a rather quiet, even a staid product of far-upstate Vermont, found herself ill-prepared for what came next, to handle the information that came out of these forgotten girls. She found that one or two offered to translate, though one girl, in particular, seemed to be quite fluent. This girl was well-dressed, haughty and indifferent, and Elizabeth figured this girl was on the inside of the operation, part of the inner family, and soon she had this girl sequestered from the others. Then, once she talked with one of the girls willing to interpret, she began her interviews with the girls – one by one…

They were bound for New York City, they said, and most of them already had “owners” lined up, though a few of the younger ones, she soon learned, were more like speculative ventures. Young virgins, for the most part, these girls would show up “to work at restaurants on the East Side” one day, but they would be snatched up within hours by their owners, destined to work as “housekeepers” – though, she learned, these as yet unattached waifs rarely did anything but housework. No, these girls were part of a steady stream of children being imported into the US, allegedly to work as domestics, but the truth of their existence, Elizabeth soon understood, was as part of a far darker world. All would work in the sex trade, either as domestic sex slaves or as “actresses” in brutally sadistic S&M films. One of the girls she talked with had a friend who had reportedly been killed – for the film, such as it was, was all about killing very young virgins. Or so this girl said.

+

Ted heard an aircraft overhead and went topsides to look for it; he saw the ungainly looking beast through the trees that lined the cove, and he watched as it flared and settled on the water. Then, with a wary eye, he looked on as it taxied through the inlet and he found himself wondering, for perhaps the first time in his life, what it was like to fly. To be a pilot. To do the things his father had done.

‘That’s odd,’ he thought as he watched the beast approach. ‘I’ve been surrounded by pilots and aircraft my whole life, yet never once have I…’

“Is that the plane?” he heard Tracy ask, and so, biting his tongue, he turned to her and nodded his head. “What took them so long?” she asked, and again, he fought back the urge to lash out at her inanity and simply shrugged.

He watched the aircraft pass a few anchored boats, their owners now very curious indeed and staring at the floats as it passed. As the beast drew near he saw the doctor was onboard and, oddly enough, she waved at him, and smiled. He waved away his fear and tried to meet her smile, then he thought about Melissa – and about the things she’d told him down below.

Drawn to his father. By God. Never had an interest in Canada, nor even heard of Desolation Sound, but for weeks she had felt a need to be here – today. Her description of seeing his father on the fuel dock had rattled him, too. He looked god-like, she said, wreathed in an aura of golden flame, and she said she knew right then that her destiny waited now, waited for a decision. She had been waiting for him all her life.

He’d tried to measure her words against his own experience of God – and he’d come up short. God didn’t do things like this, did He?

Or did He?

Or…was her being here really nothing more or less than chance, a mere coincidence. A simple statistical anomaly, a chain of unrelated events leading to a new outcome, like intricate lines of dominoes set to fall along predictable paths, only – interrupted by an earthquake. Destin. Sailboats. Her ex-husband, a pilot with Delta who had known his father. How many coincidences must there be, he sighed as these varied images came to mind, before things just didn’t add up any longer?

The pilot maneuvered his aircraft through the water in a tight arc, swinging the loading doors right up to Altair’s lifelines, and he grabbed hold and held the plane’s elevators off the shrouds while the pilot hopped out onto a float and secured the aircraft’s floats to Altair. After his father was lifted aboard the aircraft he grabbed their duffels and hopped aboard, but then, before he went further he turned and looked at Melissa.

Her eyes were full of tears, yet he felt strength in them, too.

‘So many contradictory impulses,’ he said, if only to himself, then he smiled at her – as the pilot let slip the lines and pushed his airplane away from Altair’s navy blue hull.

“You’ll need to sit up front with me,” the pilot said. “No room aft, I’m afraid.”

“Right.” He looked at Melissa after he clambered up into the tiny cockpit, looked at her – standing on his father’s home – as the airplane taxied out the inlet into open water. He looked down at Altair after they took off and circled the cove, lost inside all the implications of her last words to him.

“He’s in God’s hands now, Ted. Have faith in Him.”

Then, quite suddenly, he knew just what it was she’d experienced – and where his future lay.

+

She’d never imagined worlds like this existed. That one’s life could be so utterly, so wantonly castrated of meaning, of purpose, of even the simplest joy. It was as if these women, these girls really, had been wiped clean from the book of life. Erased, in silence, and no one would bear witness to their suffering save the warped souls who would torment them on their way through this life. These girls, all of them unwanted in their homeland and lucky even to be alive, had been cast adrift soon after birth, only to be raised almost as domestic animals, kept alive for their potential worth once they reached a certain age. Kept alive for men in America and Europe – so they could be consumed again and again, out of sight, out of mind.

After Elizabeth finished her first dozen interviews she went to talk with the haughtily indifferent girl she suspected of being on the inside. She had no name, she said, and her silence implied she had no existence.

“Where are you from?” asked Elizabeth.

No answer, only an insipid, almost vapid shrug.

“You should answer me, you know? If you don’t, well, you simply go to jail until you do.”

Again, the quietly defiant shrug.

“You think your people in New York will come for you?”

A slight smirk, a quick, sidelong glance of the eye.

“That maybe they’ll get you out so you won’t have to talk to me?”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” the girl said, her English clear and perfect.

“Oh? Enlighten me?”

“Let me go now and you may yet live. Keep me and you’ll be dead by nightfall.”

“Oh? And who do you think will pull that off?”

The insolence on the girl’s face was almost too much for Elizabeth, but she looked into the girl’s eyes, tried to feel her way inside this lost soul, yet she found nothing there – only a darkening void.

“So, you take these girls down to the Village? They already have masters, is that it?”

“And you are dead.”

“No, Mai Ling, I am very much alive and, actually, I have your Passport. The FBI is en route, as is a representative of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And, as you are in a world of trouble I thought I’d give you an opportunity to tell me what you know before the, uh, well, the professionals start in on you…”

A rattled veneer now, a sudden, tectonic shift deep within the girl’s magmatic core.

“The truck driver? Your brother? You do know he’s dead, don’t you? Are you sure you don’t want to talk to me before the FBI gets here? You do realize the danger you are in, don’t you? Your family? What they’ll do to you now that we have these girls?”

Deeper cracks in her veneer, sudden tremors passing across her face like shadows of clouds.

“Your family in Queens? And in Kowloon? All that in jeopardy now. Unless you talk. I can help, you know?”

“You?” the girl cried, the word full of mocking scorn. “You have no idea what you’ve stumbled on, do you? This is just the tip of the iceberg…”

“Really? And what if you’re just a frightened little girl, a girl afraid of the dark.”

They talked for hours after that – while two detectives from the Vermont State Police took notes.

+

Melissa sat in Altair’s cockpit after Ted left, looking past the bow to the trees that lined the cove, but she appeared lost now. Lost and vulnerable. All she could see in her mind’s eye was the spreading disease within his leg. Black streaks, like lightning gone terribly wrong, and hot to the touch. She’d never seen anything like it but she knew it was evil, that something was coiled up inside of him waiting to strike, and she was afraid because she knew he was going to die. So much was riding on him now – and he was going to die. And now, suddenly, she felt quite helpless to stop this runaway train.

Then she heard Tracy coming up the companionway ladder and she tensed.

“Think you could run me across to the store?” Tracy asked.

“Sure, but there’s no bus service over there. Only seaplanes. Kind of expensive, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh,” the girl said, lost now, and not a little confused.

“So. Who are you running from?”

“Excuse me?”

“Running? Who from? Daddy? A boyfriend? Who?”

The girl turned away, shrugged.

“And? What happens if they find you?”

Tracy shrugged again, then sighed – as really, there was no point in lying now. “I guess they kill me.”

“You know their distribution network, I assume?”

Again the girl nodded, only now she turned and looked at Melissa. “How’d you know?”

“Oh, I’ve met you before. Not you, but girls like you. Caught in the trap, nowhere to turn, no place to run.”

“Dime a dozen, huh?”

“Something like that. Do you want to go home?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did he abuse you?”

She nodded her head a little, a barely perceived, mouselike little motion, almost a denial, yet not quite.

“What about your mum?”

“She was always too afraid.”

“I know, but there’s no need to blame her, you know? Caught in the same trap, I guess.”

“You too?” Tracy asked.

And Melissa shrugged. “Not really, but yeah, I know where you’re coming from.”

“Do you?”

“I’ve helped a few girls in your shoes.”

“Oh, have you?” Tracy said, but there was a layer of scorn in her voice that hung over them both.

“I’d like to think so, yes.”

“Yes, I rather imagine you might like that. Who are you running from, by the way? Boyfriend, or husband?”

“Not that simple, Tracy.”

“It never is, luv. Until it is.”

“When was the last time you thought you were made? Before this week, I mean.”

“About a year ago, in San Francisco. The people running me are tied to the cartels now.”

“No way out in California, is there?”

“No. I always thought I could hide there, but…”

“There’s always someone coming around the next corner, isn’t there?”

“That’s right. Always.”

“Did you tell Ted this part?”

“No, course not. I knew someone was on to me last week like, knew it was time to move again…”

“And along comes Ted.”

“And Jim,” Tracy added.

“Ah, so it’s him that interested you?”

“Until you fuckin’ came along, yeah.”

“Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?”

“Do you know how to sail this thing?”

“Sort of, but not really,” Melissa lied, suddenly realizing she was in imminent mortal danger. “The systems on this boat are…well, I have no idea how to run a boat this complex.”

The girl looked towards the seaplane base across the way. “I wonder where they fly to?”

“Up and down the coast, small fishing towns for the most part. Think you could hide out someplace like that?”

“Maybe. Got any cash?”

“A few hundred. I could buy your ticket, though. Give you what I’ve got on hand.”

That seemed to make up the girl’s mind. “Let me get my kit, then. I want to be out of here before dark.”

“Did you see someone this morning?”

She nodded her head. “Maybe. At that bakery. Someone I remember from Vancouver.”

Melissa thought about that now. Someone looking for Tracy here – if that was really her name – out here on the sound. And now they knew she was on this boat.

Would she be safe out here by herself, she wondered? And, when would Ted be back?

She was in the Zodiac, waiting, when Tracy came up with her duffel, and they rode across the cove in silence. She tied up at the cove and walked up to the store and bought her a ticket to Campbell River, gave her a few hundred dollars then hurried back to the inflatable before the girl changed her mind.

She tied-off on a cleat and climbed up to the aft deck, then went below to her duffel and pulled out an Inmarsat phone and flipped it on. She entered the encryption key and waited for the green light, then dialed a one-time number and waited for the connection.

“Go,” she heard the man’s voice on the other end.

“She’s on the evening flight from Squirrel Cove to Campbell River. Says she’s spotted someone on her tail, but I didn’t see anyone.”

“Your next move?”

“Stay here, for a few days, at least,” then she explained why.

 

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkuhn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

fiction, all of it…

Corcovado + Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars 3

corcovado 3

III

He looked at the chart plotter again, checked their depth carefully as he motored slowly into Squirrel Cove, a convoluted inlet on the southeast side of Cortes Island – and deep inside Desolation Sound. It was almost seven-thirty, and while the sun was still up, somewhere up there behind the clouds, they’d been at it all day – setting sail at four in the morning and pushing-on through one heavy rainstorm after another. Now, with the end of their journey at hand, visibility was down to fifty feet and at ferocious wind, right out of the south at sixty knots, was pushing Altair towards the rocks on the right side of the narrow, westernmost inlet. Tracy looked terrified; Ted looked bored. He knew his father, knew he was enjoying this, the extra challenge at the end of a long, hard day…

A violent gust rocked the boat and he turned Altair into the wind a little, though she rolled more than thirty degrees right for a moment – and Tracy shrieked her displeasure then, now, suddenly, beyond terrified. Yet Altair stood up again and he added power, his eyes now fixed on the chart plotter…and the way ahead.

“Another hundred yards or so and we’ll be out of this wind,” he said for Tracy’s benefit – just as another gust slammed into Altair, sending her almost on her beam.

“Jesus, Dad, the wind gauge hit ninety…!” Ted called out, but he was still focused on the rocky ledge about fifteen meters ahead – because these gusts were pushing him right for it…

He waited for the wind to settle a little, then slipped the transmission into reverse and backed down hard, his rudder to starboard a little, and as Altair’s bow pointed away from the ledge he put the transmission in forward again and gunned the engine, kicking the old girl with his spurs on one more time. A minute later they were inside the sheltering cove, and the wind, just as he said it would, fell off to the gentlest breeze imaginable.

“Get the eighty pound ready first,” he said, quietly, to his son, and Ted ran off to the bow to get the anchor ready to drop. “How you doin’, kiddo?” he added, looking at the disbelief in Tracy’s eyes.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Get us in here…?”

“Badly, I’m afraid. I should have anticipated those last two gusts.”

“Badly?”

“Yeah. Sorry about that…that really could’ve gone smoother,” he sighed, but his eyes were on the plotter again. He overlaid radar on the display and he could see the contours of the cove now, and every boat anchored inside, too, even though visibility in the heavy rain was still under fifty meters. He changed range scales and fiddled with the gain setting, knocking back the rain-clutter, then he saw a likely place near the far east end of the cove.

Ted had the eighty pounder on the roller now, ready to go, and he waved him back to the cockpit. “No reason for you to stand out there,” he said as his cold, wet son clambered back into the cockpit.

“How far?”

“‘Bout a half mile, and I don’t think this rain is gonna let up anytime soon.”

“What’s the forecast look like?”

“More of the same, like maybe two, three more days.”

“Swell,” Ted grumbled. “Just what the doctor ordered.”

“It’s pretty here,” Tracy sighed, peering into the murk. “Nothing but trees…”

“Oh,” he said, grinning, “there’s more here than meets the eye.”

“Like?”

“You’ll see,” Ted added, though he was grinning now, too.

“What’s the big mystery,” she whined.

He looked at the plotter, confirmed there were no wayward currents pushing him around inside the cove, then he looked up, checked the radar against the boats he saw looming out of the mist and rain just ahead. “About three hundred yards, Ted.”

“I’m gonna get another fleece, my gloves, too.”

He powered back a little, turned away from a group of boats anchored along the south side of the cove, then noted several were rafted-up together, forming a sort of floating community out here in the middle of nowhere…then Ted was bounding out into the rain again. He picked his spot and throttled down, let Altair drift to a long, arcing stop, then he toggled the windlass and let the anchor down…slowly…and then, when Ted gave him the signal, he backed down until he felt the anchor set.

He shut down the engine, marveled at the quiet of this place once again – even as he listened to the wind through the pines and rain pelting the cockpit enclosure…then he noticed Tracy looking at him.

“Does anything bother you?” she asked.

“What?”

“That storm…the rocks…you could’ve lost your boat, maybe our lives, but it was like you were, well, on heroin. Nothing seems to upset you…”

“People get in trouble when they panic. When they stop thinking the problem through, when they just start acting. That’s probably the first thing a student pilot learns, too, by the way.”

“So, that’s it? You run into things like this all the time, so it’s like…just no big deal? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yup.”

“What happens if you screw up?”

“People die.”

+++++

He opened his eyes, looked around. Navy gray everywhere, and ductwork…the thrum of air conditioning and heavy machinery buried deep within the bowels of the living, breathing ship. A medic of some sort fiddling with his bandaged leg, then adjusting an IV hanging from a tree over his face.

“Oh…you’re awake…”

“If this isn’t a dream,” he replied, “I am.”

“No, sir, Lieutenant, no dreams allowed in here.”

“Where am I?”

“Back on the Roosevelt, sir. Docs operated on both legs, and turned out that snake’s venom was pretty mild, like maybe he didn’t get a good strike or somethin’, but I’ll go get the doc…”

He nodded, then looked down at his legs and shook his head. “Fuck,” was about all he could think to say, then he just stared ahead until a man in blood-splattered green scrubs came up to his gurney.

“Guess you had a helluva night, Lieutenant.”

“What happened?”

“Beats me. By the time the Seals got to you, well, you were out cold and seriously fucked up. Good thing you powdered that wound on your right leg…that shard got close to, well, let’s just say you had a close call and we’ll leave it at that.”

“And?”

“We still don’t know what kind of snake got you. One of the Seals got it with an M16, brought back some pieces so we could ID the thing. I think what saved you was, well, your vascular network down there was already pretty compromised, so the venom just couldn’t spread. It’s responding to anti-histamines so it’s probably a hemotoxin, so it wasn’t a cobra or something like that.”

“When can I get back to flight status?”

“Well, that’s the good part. No fractures and no major muscle damage, so assuming no infection I’d give it about two months…”

“Two…MONTHS?”

“Believe me, Lieutenant, when you get on your feet again you’ll realize how close a call you really had…”

“Can I go back to my quarters now…” he asked, clearly perturbed.

“You’re leaving for Germany on the next COD,” the physician added, “then stateside.”

The squad CO, Dan Green, came in a few minutes after the doc left, and Green looked at his leg for a while, then came closer. “Close one, Jim. You remember what happened?”

“First SAM – went wide right, the second went just aft. What about the Sukhois? Did I get ‘em?”

“Yeah, you sure did. Nothing got airborne, and the base is history. We got some Seals in there to secure the place this morning. It’s a done deal now, anyway. Saddam’s people are bugging out, disappearing into the hills, and their air force is, well, they split too, flew to Iran.”

“Iran? I thought…”

“Everyone thought they’d go to Jordan. They didn’t.”

“So, what? They’re just going to sit this one out?”

“Guess none of them felt like being martyred this week, if you know what I mean.”

“I guess, yeah.”

“So, they tell me you’re headed to Wiesbaden?”

“Can you talk to someone, Dan? No broken bones…shit…I ought to be ready to fly in a few days.”

Green laughed at that. “Hell, Jim, this thing is going to be over in a few days, for us, anyway. They’re already talking about moving a couple of the carriers back out to the Indian Ocean, maybe to the Med. Seems like Saddam is getting ready to shoot off some Scuds, and the thinking is he might try to hit Israel.”

“Too bad for him if he does.”

“Yeah, anyway, by the time they get that leg fit for duty we’ll probably be back at Pearl. I wouldn’t sweat it, but if it heats up again you’ll be ready to go. You’re a short-timer, aren’t you? You weren’t thinking of extending?”

“I wasn’t, until this thing. My hitch is up in June.”

“Call it four months, then? Well, who knows. If we’re still here in a few weeks I’ll put in a request. About all I can do, Jim.”

“Thanks, Skip.”

“Yeah. Well, some of the ground-pounders wanted to talk to you…”

“The Seals? Great…!”

And with that, five men came into the compartment.

“Hey, L-T!” their CO said as he led his men into the little compartment. That was some mean shootin’ you did out there…”

“Shooting?”

“That cat. You nailed it, right in the throat. Dropped him like a sack of potatoes. Pretty good for a 1911 – at that range, anyway.”

“Cat?”

“Yeah, that spotted thing. Looks like a leopard, only it’s not. Some kind of swamp-cat…but man, you got him…”

“All I remember is the snake…coiled up by my feet…”

“Yeah, he was still there when we got to you. Hernandez got him, emptied a whole fuckin’ magazine into his fat ass, too.”

He looked around at the Seal team and nodded. “Thanks, men. Appreciate your laying it out there for me.”

He heard their chorus of “You bets…” and “No problemos,” then they were gone, Green too, and he felt himself coming down hard and fast now.

“Germany…?” he sighed. “Well, at least I can call the folks from there, and Babs, let ‘em know I’m okay…”

Then the throbbing started.

By the time he arrived in Germany his right leg was splotchy blue and the docs told him some kind of bug had gotten into the tissues of his lower leg…something from that swampy marsh…

“A bug?”

“Yeah. They get in through the wound, find their way into the space between the muscle and your skin. They multiply like crazy in there.”

“And?”

“We try antibiotics, three or four of ‘em, over the next 24 hours.”

“We try? And what happens if they don’t work?”

And the doc shook his head. “Let’s not go there right now…okay?”

+++++

Tracy was shivering and Ted was almost as white as snow when they came in from setting the anchors, so, as much as he didn’t want to, he fired up the generator then turned on the cabin heaters. He set about making dinner then, though he kept his eyes on the weather every few minutes. The forecast was for almost freezing temps overnight, the mid-30s, anyway – and that was for Vancouver! – yet three days from now sunny and in the 70s.

“What a roller coaster…” he sighed as he turned to the chicken in the skillet.

“What’s for chow?” Ted asked as he came out of the aft cabin.

“Lettuce wraps and that coconut soup you like.”

“Ah…nothing like Thai on a rainy night.”

“You’re cooking Thai food?” Tracy asked. “On a boat?”

“Why not?” he replied. “It’s not that difficult, and it doesn’t take long.”

“Lettuce wraps?” she added. “Really?”

“Sure. I washed the lettuce and made the soup this afternoon. All I have to do is grind the chicken and put the soup in the microwave.”

“The microwave? You have one of those, too?”

He shook his head – again – then turned to the stove – again. He added lemongrass and basil, and finally one crushed cardamom pod, then he turned down the heat and let the chicken simmer for a while. “Tea’s ready, if anyone wants some.”

“Don’t tell me,” Tracy sneered. “Fresh chai?”

“Yup.”

“This is ridiculous,” she sighed. “This is like a floating restaurant…”

“You’d rather I opened a can of dog food for you?” he asked, trying to keep calm.

“I just don’t get it,” the girl said. “Getting away from it all…”

“Doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of the things I like to eat, Tracy. You forget. This is my home, and the idea of living like a backpacker doesn’t appeal to me all that much.”

She nodded. “Yeah…I get that…”

Ted was rummaging through a pantry about then, and he stood up, beaming, holding forth a can: “Dad! Look! Pork and beans, with weenies, even! Trace? Want some?”

She sneered again. “No thanks.”

Ted looked at his old man – and winked.

+

She helped with the dishes, and he let her know he appreciated the help, then he went to the chart table and looked over the batteries.

“Gonna have to run the generator all night?” Ted asked.

“With this water temp the fridge and freezer won’t draw too much, but the heater? That won’t run off batteries.”

“So? We’ve got good blankets…”

“Yeah? At 36 degrees and with three bodies in here there will be enough condensation on the ceiling in the morning to take a shower with…”

“Dad? We’re like, ya know, laying down a smoke-screen out there. The fumes are overwhelming.”

“So?”

“Well, do the words ‘pristine’ and ‘wilderness’ ring any bells?”

“Does freezing your ass off all night mean anything to you? Then dealing with an unholy mess in the morning?”

“I vote for warm,” Tracy said, tossing her two cents into the up. “I kind of like warm.”

“Me too,” he said. “Don’t you just love democratic systems of governance, Paco?”

Ted sighed, shook his head. “I like warm, too. I also hate turning this harbor into a cesspool. Like, we came here to get away from all that crap?”

“Right, Paco. Who’s up for a movie?”

“Movies?” Tracy said…and he sighed – then turned the generator to AUTO and flipped the heater to STAND-BY – and complete silence enveloped Altair…and the entire cove, for that matter.

And moments later he heard cheers and applause coming from all the boats anchored around Altair, and he shook his head as he retreated into his cabin.

+

He slept late – ‘til three a.m., anyway – then he got up – shivering – and turned on the generator, then the heater. He put on coffee and took his shower, then fired up the chart table and looked over the current weather. “Wind still out of the south, at forty, forty-five, and rain all day. A high of fifty-five? Well, well, well…sounds like a good day to read.”

He decided to check on Ted and poked his head in the aft cabin – and saw Tracy curled up by his son’s side.

He closed the door gently and tip-toed to the galley, trying not to grin, then he put on some hot water to make that tea-like crud Tracy was using to help back off the heroin. He got out “her” cup and added the recommended amount and let it steep for a while, then he went back to her room and woke her.

“Is it time already?” she asked, and he nodded.

He went back to the galley and a few minutes later she came out, looked at him getting ready to cook breakfast and she walked up behind him, put her arms around him.

“Good morning,” she said, then she disengaged and walked to the main table in the saloon and sat – as usual, tucking her bare feet under her thighs.

“Sleep well?” he asked, handing her the mug.

She looked at him and grinned. “I wish I’d known he was a virgin,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’d have baked him a cake or something…”

He shrugged. “All things being equal, I’m kind of glad it was you.”

She teared up at that, then turned away. “Me?” she said a minute later. “The lying heroin addict?”

“Sorry. That’s not the girl I know. I know this girl named Tracy, the one who meets problems head-on, and doesn’t quit.”

“That’s not the girl I know.”

He shrugged again, then smiled at her. “Looks like were in for a long, rainy day. You like to read?”

“Depends…”

“Well, I’ve got a few books stowed for a rainy day…”

“You said you have movies?”

“Yup. On my laptop. Play ‘em through that iMac over there,” he said, pointing.

“Do you have any oldies?”

“Oldies? How old does a movie have to be before it’s an oldie? The first Star Wars, maybe?”

She grinned at that. “No, I mean old…like Elvis kind of old.”

“Ah. Well, I do have Paradise, Hawaii Style, if that counts?”

“Which one’s that?”

“He plays the fired airline pilot who comes home…”

“That figures,” she said, grinning. “I bet you have The High and The Mighty, too.” And he started whistling John Wayne’s iconic theme at that, and she broke out laughing. “My God, you do have a one-track mind, don’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask…what happened to your leg? The right one, there?” she said, pointing.

He turned away from her question, went back to the galley. “Just a bad night,” he said as he pulled out a skillet. “A bad night, a long time ago.”

“Was it serious?”

“No, not really.”

“You don’t want to talk about it?”

“No, not really.”

“Okay. Can I help?”

“I’m just gonna whip up some breakfast. You hungry?”

“Actually, yes. Want me to wake up Ted?”

“Just see if he wants to get up yet…”

She walked past, brushed up against his back as she passed and a chill went up his back, and he leaned forward, put his outstretched hands on the counter and closed his eyes, trying to remember the last time he’d been so attracted to another human being…

+++++

“Hey, Pumpkin,” he said as he came into their apartment. He was carrying his flight bag in one hand, his car keys in the other, and he could hear Barbara working away in the apartment’s tiny kitchen, so he put his bag down and walked in. He could smell bourbon and the realization unsettled him – if only because it was not quite lunch time.

“How was your night?” she asked.

“Long.”

“Ben Chambers called this morning. He wants you to call-in as soon as you get settled.”

“Oh? Did he say anything?”

“Nope. You want to grab a shower? Lunch will be ready in about ten minutes…”

“Yeah. I’d better,” he said, thinking he might have to run back out to the training center after lunch. He walked into the bedroom and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Something didn’t feel right, he thought. Something was – off.

He shook it off and hopped in the shower, washing away the night – and the sudden panicky vibration gripped him again, then he dried and got dressed…in a hurry. She had huevos rancheros and fresh guacamole on the table and he dug in. “Jeez, darlin’ – you’re getting better and better at these…”

“Thanks, Jim. Glad you like ‘em.”

“Well, I love you, Pumpkin. It’s sweet of you to do this for me. When do you go in?”

“Three to midnight again. You off tomorrow?”

“Three days off, then I start Atlanta to CDG – for three months, anyway.”

“Paris…? Think we could spend a long weekend there?”

“You know it, babe.”

She sat beside him, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then she smiled. “That could be fun,” she added…a little too suggestively.

“Where would you like to stay?”

“I don’t care…somewhere old, away from… No. Maybe by Notre Dame. Are there any hotels over by that part of town?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I can ask one of the guys when I start…”

“Could you?”

“Sure. You need help with the dishes?”

“No…you’d better go make your call,” she said, and he nodded, went to their bedroom again, and again, the hair on the back of his neck shot up in electric warning.

He shook it off, called Chambers’ office at the training center and held while someone went to find him.

“Jim? You haven’t put on your pajamas yet, have you?”

“No, sir. What’s up?”

“An opportunity, I think, if you’re up to it?”

“Oh?”

“Listen up. Word is headquarters is dead set on unloading most of our widebodies, including the L-1011s. I don’t know what the timeline is yet, but even if we keep the TriStars around you’re way back on the seniority list. It could be ten years before you get to the left seat, and then what? You make it just as we dump the type? Then what?”

“Jeez, Ben. When’d you hear this?”

“Couple days ago. Look, I know you’re getting ready to start this week, so here goes. We’re getting our first 752s in this year, and from what I hear management is really going to get behind this hull. I’m thinking, with your experience you could make captain in two, maybe three years, and the 57 is Delta’s future. You hearin’ me?”

“I am. And, what’s the punchline?”

“Our first school starts in three weeks. You can start the Paris run as scheduled, put in your app and wait, but I think they’ll take you.”

“What do I need to do?”

“I’d get down here pronto and get the paperwork in.”

“Like, this afternoon?”

“Like yesterday, Jim. The word’s out. Tomorrow will be too late for the first group of FOs.”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” he said as he hung up the phone, and when he turned around Barbara was standing in the doorway, glowering at him.

And that’s when he noticed the used condom on the floor by her shoes. He looked at it for the longest time, then he picked it up and carried it right past her on his way to the bathroom. He flushed it down the toilet, washed his hands then left – without saying a word to her.

He missed the smile on her face as the door closed behind him.

+++++

“Two days of this rain is enough, Paco. I’ve had it. You ready to run down to Nancy’s, grab some chow?”

“Oh, man, I thought you’d never ask!”

“Is Nancy’s that place you two keep talking about?” Tracy asked.

“Nancy’s is only the best place for breakfast on earth,” Ted sighed, suddenly almost salivating.

“And what that really means,” he added, “is that he’s tired of my cooking.”

“I’m not,” Tracy said, smiling.

“Well, I am,” he said. “I could use a break. You ready to pull up the hook?”

“You wanna leave now?” Ted asked.

“Yup. Maybe we can get there before the early morning rush.”

“The early morning rush?” Ted croaked. “In Lund, B.C.?”

“You see all these boats anchored here, Paco? Well, there are probably two hundred more over in Gorge Harbor, and in about an hour they’re all gonna wake up and have the exact same thought – at the exact same time. My-oh-my, but a fresh cinnamon roll over at Nancy’s sure sounds good!”

“Alright, alright…let me grab my gloves, Captain Bligh.”

“Good. I’ll warm up the diesel.” He preheated the water lines and flipped on the spreader lights, then went to the cockpit and started the engine, watching the gauges as it warmed. When Ted pulled up on the trip-line and gave him the thumbs-up, he ran the windlass, pulling the anchor, and it’s chain, up onto deck, and he verified their position on the plotter while he turned to leave the cove.

Light rain and a wind-driven, four-foot chop greeted them outside, and he set his course to 1-5-6 and engaged the auto-pilot, then went topsides to roll out the headsails. When both were pulling he and Ted raised the main, then he ducked below and fell off the wind a little, letting the sails fill, then he fiddled with the heading on the AP for a while, until a gust hit and Altair heeled over dramatically.

“Whoa!” Tracy shouted, grabbing the cockpit coaming and holding on for dear life. “Where’d that come from?”

He chuckled. “Where did what come from?”

She scowled as she looked at him, then she smiled too. “It is kind of fun, isn’t it?”

“Kind of.” With her port-side rail over far enough to ship water in the troughs, Altair bit into the wind and began racing south towards Lund, and still the sun was nowhere to be seen. The sky was simply sifting through shades of gray as night turned to day, and the water looked impossibly black out here…like India ink. He saw the lights of a fishing boat ahead, and a few channel markers were flashing in the darkness, but there was almost nothing else…

“Dad! Logs!”

He saw them then – almost invisible in the rolling waves – a half dozen trees had broken loose from their raft and were adrift mid-channel, so he fell off the wind and they picked their way through what turned out to be several hundred fifty-to-seventy-foot-long timbers, knocked free from their rafts by the storm, so he did what he thought best and called the hazard in to the Canadian Coast Guard…

It took two hours to make the run down to Lund after that, and he was more than ready for a cinnamon roll, too, by the time they tied off at the nearby fuel dock. He was stressed now, afraid of hitting an errant log and holing the hull, maybe losing his home.

“Stayin’ long?” the owner, a very old man asked, and when he pointed to Nancy’s the old guy just smiled and nodded. “Take your time. No crowds ‘til nine or so. See many logs out?”

“Yeah…hundreds…”

“I heard some guy called ‘em in to the Coast Guard. That’s a laugh…”

“A laugh?”

“They’re too busy running down the druggies to do much about it. Besides, happens every summer up here…”

“Oh? I’ve been up here a few times, never seen it so bad.”

“They’ve been cuttin’ trees like nothin’ I’ve seen before, and all winter, too. China, I guess. They’re building like crazy over there – and usin’ our lumber to do it, I reckon.”

“Lot of drug running up here?”

“Non-stop. Word is most of it’s comin’ from North Korea, too. Chinese heroin, I’ve heard, for the most part. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think?”

“China has made an art out of playing both sides of the street – for a long time.”

“Playin’ us the fool, too, and laughing all the way to the bank.”

He shook his head then went about topping off both tanks, but he turned to Ted then and told them to go on up and get a table.

“Want a roll?” Ted asked.

“Yup…”

“Need water?” the old guy asked. “The hose is right here…I can watch the pump if you want to top off your tanks…”

+

He was chilled – and soaked to the bone – by the time he made it inside Nancy’s, and he made it to the table just as his cinnamon roll arrived.

“Coffee, sir?” their waitress asked.

“Yup. A big one, French roast if you’ve got it. You know what? Make mine a latte, if you can.”

She nodded, smiled at him and walked off to the counter.

“Man,” Ted began, “that’s some snotty weather, Dad…I don’t know about this…”

“Not the weather that bugs me, Paco. It’s all the wood out there…”

“Wouldn’t they just bounce off?” Tracy asked. “It’s just wood…?”

“Maybe, if you hit one just right, but that wood is soaked with water, almost as hard as iron. Odds are, I think, a strike would knock a hole in the hull. A big one.” Her eyes went wide as she realized what they’d just been through, how close they’d come to a real emergency, then she looked away – out to sea. “Talking to the guy at the dock,” he continued, “he says this is the worst summer for rafts breaking up, ever. Been a lot of incidents in the main channel, too.”

“What do we do?” Ted asked, his mouth scrunched up into a lopsided frown.

“Well, for one, I think when we leave we’ll head back slowly, only on days when the visibility is good, and only in daylight. Next…we’ll have to set a bow watch.”

“Oh…joygasm…” Ted sighed, knowing what that meant.

“We won’t head back until this weather clears, and it’s warmed up a bit…man, these cinnamon rolls haven’t changed one bit, have they?”

“I just saw a yummy looking bagels and lox,” Tracy said. “I’m gonna get that.”

He looked at her, wondered just how much she could put away. She’d been eating non-stop for the last two days, nauseated if she didn’t eat, and he felt for her. Again…

“Yeah, it looked pretty bad,” Ted added.

“Bad?” he asked.

“Bad…sick…that means they really kick ass these days, Dad.”

“Ah. Well, good to know I have a translator.”

The door opened and a girl came in – a woman, really, he noted. Short, squat, almost soft looking, and she peeled off her rain gear – then turned and shook them off just outside the door. She came back in and hung them on a hook, then took a microfiber cloth and cleaned her eyeglasses as she walked to the counter – and he found he couldn’t take his eyes off her.

The place was empty now – but for the four of them and the staff, and he wondered what had gotten her out so early. He watched her order coffee at the counter then she turned and looked right at him – right in the eye – and he couldn’t turn away.

Red hair, white skin set in a nebula of freckles, and even across the room he could see her eyes were deep blue – then the woman walked right up to their table…!

“You came in on the blue boat, right?” she asked – and her accent was pure Georgia, thick as molasses.

He was watching her lips, entranced by the shape of them as she spoke, then her words registered. “That’s right. What brings you out this early in the morning?”

She looked puzzled hearing that, shook her head. “I was trying to get over to Cortes Island,” she said, the question she wanted to ask hanging in the air, apparent.

“Oh? What’s over there?”

And again she shook her head, the tone of his question obviously unsettling. “Seals, for the most part. I wanted to take pictures of seals over there, because I’ve heard it’s lovely at dusk.”

“It might be,” Ted interjected, “if the sun came out every once in a while.”

She laughed a little at that. “Yes. Nice weather so far.”

“How long have you got?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” she replied.

“To spend on the island?”

“I was hoping to make it a day trip, but it seems that’s impossible from here.”

“Yup,” he added. “About a two-hour trip. From here, anyway.”

“You’ve been?”

“Yup. We’ve been anchored at Squirrel Cove…”

“Really! That’s just where I wanted to go. The pictures I’ve seen of the area are really just amazing.”

“We had fifty-foot visibility,” Ted began, a little sarcastically. “Great for looking at, what, Dad? What could we see?”

“Trees. Once.”

“And a whole lot of fog,” Ted added.

Her coffee came and she took it, still standing by their table.

“Would you care to join us?” he asked.

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all.”

“So, you see, I wanted to get to the island, walk around, take pictures, then get back here, to the hotel…”

“I thought there was a boat to Whaletown…?”

“There is, but not for two days.”

Not too many places to stay over there, by that cove,” he added. A few guest cottages, but they’re…”

“Well, it’s too early in the season. Not open yet.”

“So,” he said, then he paused, thought over the options running through his mind, “you could hop over with us. We’re headed back after breakfast, we’ll probably stay for a few more days, so you could look for a place to bunk out over there, then hitch a ride back with us.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“No, of course not.”

“When are you leaving?”

“As soon as we have some chow.”

“I ask as I’ll need to go pack my things and check-out…”

“Why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast. We’ll help with your bags…”

And when she looked at him this time the still, unsettled look in her eyes rattled him. “I don’t mean to be forward,” he added. “Probably just be easier that way.”

She nodded her head then looked at the dock where Altair was tied-off. “Is she an Island Packet?” she asked.

“That’s right. How’d you know?”

“I’ve had a couple. Last was a 325 I kept down at Destin.”

“I hate that harbor entrance,” he said, lost in a memory. “When the wind picks up it’s snarky.”

Now it was her turn to take a deeper look – at him. “You’ve been there more than once, I take it?”

“My folks retired there. He kept a Tashiba 40 down there by the pass.”

“Oh? Nice boats, beautiful interiors.”

He nodded. “Yup.”

“That’s what got you into sailing? Your parents?”

“I guess so, yes, but I was always interested, even as a kid…”

He looked at Ted just then, looked at Ted looking at this stranger, then back at him. And his son was grinning, or trying not to grin…and that got to him…as in – just what kind of signals am I putting out?

“So,” the woman asked. “This is your first boat?”

“Yup. Probably my last, too.”

“Really? Why do you…”

“Well, it’s home now. And I’m not big on moving.”

“You’re full time? A liveaboard?”

“Seems to be the general consensus,” he said, grinning.

“What do you do?”

“I fly, for Delta.”

That seemed to take her back a notch, too. “No kidding?”

“No kidding.”

“My husband flew for them…I mean, my ex-husband flies for them?”

“Oh? What’s his name?”

“Terry Goodway…”

And he laughed at that. “Small world,” he sighed. “He flew with me a bunch when he first got his type. What’s he up to these days.”

“I don’t know, besides hanging out with his brand new, nineteen-year-old wife.”

And he laughed again. “You’re kiddin’ – right?” But he could tell by the expression on her face that no, she wasn’t kidding. Not in the slightest. “I’m sorry,” he stumbled, “but I don’t recall your name.”

“Melissa.”

“Jim,” he said, reaching out with his right hand.

She took it, but at the same time added: “And let me guess. Your wife got the house, and you got stuck with the boat…?”

Ted bristled. “Not quite,” his son snarled, his voice dripping with malice. “Dad gave her the house, and he took the boat.”

“Oh, really?” Melissa said, her disbelief plain to see.

“Really!” Ted said – as he pushed his chair back and walked outside.

“Wow, sorry…” the woman said. “He’s…uh…”

“Pretty sensitive about things right now. It happened not long ago.”

“And, well, still waters run deep, I guess. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“She’s had issues. We decided it was a good time to go our separate ways.”

And she looked at him again, this time as if she was changing her mind, then she looked at Tracy.

“And you are?”

“Staying out of this,” Tracy said, matter-of-factly.

“No, dear. Do you have a name?”

“No, not right now I don’t.”

“Ah, well,” Melissa said, looking at him, “perhaps I’d better let you and your happy brood  go your merry way.”

He stood as she stood, then held out his hand again. “Nice to meet you. Hope you get to your island.”

“Thanks,” she said, then she went back out into the early morning drizzle.

He watched her go, saw Ted walk up to her and he watched them talk for a few minutes, then they shook hands and Ted came back inside.

“What was that all about?” he asked.

“Nothing. I just needed to clear the air.”

“Okay.”

The rest of their breakfast passed in near silence, and when it was time to pay-up he went to the counter and had more cinnamon rolls boxed-up to-go, some bread, too, then they walked down to the fuel dock together.

Melissa was there, a large blue duffel at her feet, waiting for them.

+++++

He was waiting outside the operating room, pacing back and forth in quick, anxious strides. She was eight months pregnant – but had gained almost a hundred and ten pounds – and now her blood pressure was off the charts. 223 over 130 earlier that afternoon – when someone at her office had insisted she go to the hospital, and when her obstetrician arrived she’d insisted they try to induce labor, or, failing that, take the baby before he was compromised.

He’d been somewhere over Florida when the SELCAL chimed, someone on the company frequency calling. He’d taken the news calmly, outwardly at least, but he was hurt, almost angry as he listened to the chief pilot telling him what was happening. He’d done everything he could to get her to stop eating, had cooked the healthiest meals he knew how – only to find out she’d been eating several candy bars – an hour – all day at work. She was, he understood now, content to not merely kill herself. She was going to take as many people down with her as she could, and he wondered what he might try next.

At least he’d gotten her off the sauce. He’d begged her to do at least that much, at least until the baby came, and she’d relented, promised him she wouldn’t – until he came.

Pacing the floor he had wondered…had she scarfed down the most damaging crap in the world simply to put on as many pounds as possible – so she could resume drinking that much sooner? Had his faith in her fallen so low? Had his faith in himself fallen so far…?

Her doc came out a while later, told him that both she and their son were alright now, that the boy was a little premature but nothing serious, and he had fallen away inside the moment, tried to hang on to that one bit of good news for as long as he could.

+

She let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she had no intention at all of staying home with Ted, not even for breastfeeding, and he’d simply nodded.

“You’re going back to work, I take it?”

“That’s right,” she said – bitterly. “And don’t you dare try to stop me!” she’d screamed.

“Oh, I wouldn’t think of it, Barbara,” he’d whispered, then he’d gone to change the boy’s diaper. Later that morning he called his mother, told her what was happening. She’d flown up that night, moved into the guest room and taken over – and had never once uttered a bad thing about anything, or anyone. In time he realized that Barbara loved his mother more than she loved her own, this his mother was the mother she’d never known. Babs began watching his mother, learning from her, and in time she learned to love honestly, without condition, perhaps for the first time in her life. On Ted’s second birthday she had promised him she’d never drink again, that she’d try to be a better mother…

And, within a few weeks, she was drinking again.

And his mother came back, resumed her duties while he flew and Barbara worked, then got drunk. Night after night. He tried to get her to seek help, any kind of help, but she would curse him and flee into the night.

In time they, he and Ted, started spending time down in Destin, spending time with his father on Altair. His father’s Altair. When the weather was nice they’d go out the cut and sail offshore, and Ted had always loved those bouncy rides best of all, and other times they had motored down the intra-coastal waterway, all the way to Panama City most trips, then they’d come back by way of the sea.

One day they’d been offshore when Ted spotted a weird, drooping fin of some sort and they’d altered course, gone over to see what it was…

“Oh,” Ted’s grandfather said, “that’s a Thresher shark. Not real dangerous, but he’s pretty weird looking, isn’t he?”

Other days they went out and ran across pods of dolphin and Ted would lean over and reach out for them as they swam alongside; he’d learned early on that his son had fantastic balance, and was fearless, too. He’d held on protectively until Ted was seven or eight, then he knew enough to just let go.

His father had been a pilot, too, in the war. The Big One, as it was called. Flown B-17s over Germany and lived to tell the tale, or so his old man liked to say – when he’d had a few too many, anyway, then he’d come home and gone back to work for his father…at the family’s hardware store in St Johnsbury, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He’d married his high school sweetheart and they’d had one girl – and then him, many years later. His sister Becky died when she was in kindergarten, and so he’d learned all about love and loss and life and death – and at an impossibly early age. Lessons, he knew now, that had never slipped away…lessons he’d learned from his father.

When he went away to college, to Boston College, his father had known it was all over, but really, he had known for years. His father had managed to get hold of a Cub, a Piper Cub, and had started teaching his son to fly. They flew the Green Mountains, up and down the Connecticut River Valley and all around Lake Champlain, and before long he knew that’s what his son wanted to do. His father knew all too well, if only because that had been his dream, too.

But there had been the family business lined up against all those distant hopes and dreams, his son taking over the family business chief among them, yet in the end it had been easier to sell out than to hold on a little longer, so his father had done what he had to do, then moved to Florida and settled in for the duration. And somehow Altair had become a part of his father’s new life down there. Not golf, not tennis, not even flying…no, it was sailing – something he’d never imagined his father doing…and yet his old man had taken to it with a vengeance – like a duck to water. His old man had even bought an old Greek fisherman’s cap and had been known to hang out around the docks, talking the talk.

Then Ted came, and Barbara flamed out.

And there he was again, like he’d always been. Shoulder the burden, help as best he could, and that first Altair had become the means to an end. Grandfather and grandson, tied together forever by a boat, and yet he’d not been the only connective tissue holding this family together, because his mother was always there too, always taking on the role Barbara should have…

And that had confused Ted.

Once Ted went to kindergarten, once he learned how other families got on, he’d begun to wonder why his family was so different, and, naturally, soon enough the boy had begun to wonder if it was something he’d done. If it was all his fault.

And, of course, as a new father, he’d never seen it coming.

But his mother had. And she’d done her best to answer all Ted’s questions – but, he knew, it’s never enough.

In time he watched his son grow up in the shadow of benign neglect – on Barbara’s part – and an almost smothering love – on his own mother’s part – and then one Sunday, against his wishes, his mother had taken Ted to Sunday School.

(c) adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | fiction, always fiction…

Outbound

Here are all four drug-induced chapters, united in one 80 page go-round. There are some changes in here but the story remains essentially unchanged.

outbound 4 im

OutBound

I’m sitting in my little Zodiac inflatable, puttering through the anchorage off the town of Avalon, California, and it all looks so familiar to me – yet so far away. The sharply sloping  beach is not quite a hundred feet away as I slip through the anchorage, the old casino still majestically presides over the harbor, and the rocky sea wall is as it has been all my life – boulder strewn and implacable. The water below is clear and deep blue – just as it was fifty years ago, the sandy white bottom still visible forty-three feet down, as relentlessly clear and full of promise this morning as it was in the late 60s. Nothing appears to have changed, not all that much, anyway, and even my boat looks the same. I turn and look at her reflection in the water and she hasn’t changed a bit – not as much as I have. Troubadour is my Alajuela 38, and I bought her new from the manufacturer in Newport Beach 50 years ago this year, and yes, she’s seen a few miles under her keel, true enough, but she’s been in good hands all the way. My hands, as a matter of fact. And I’ve been looking at my hands these last few days, maybe more than I should, and right now, as I putter through the anchorage off Avalon, I can see my hands have changed a lot recently, and I have to admit there are days I hardly recognize them. Still, when those moments find me I wonder what happened to me, because Troubadour looks the same. Why, I wonder? Why do I have to be the one get old? It doesn’t seem fair to me.

I remember looking at my grandfather’s hands once and wondering what all those brown spots were. Why his fingernails were kind of yellow and ridged. He had scars all over them, too, and most were from cuts he’d sewn up himself. He’d dip a needle and thread in whiskey and just sew himself up, and he didn’t think anything of it. It was what you did to stop the bleeding, so he did it and moved on to the next chore, which was what I did – more or less – over the years. Now, looking at my hand on the outboard motor’s tiller I recognized those hands for what they were. They were my hands now, in a way, but they were my grandfather’s, too, right down to the yellow ridges. Am I an echo? I always thought I was just me, but am I, really?

I remember me and Pops sat and watched the Petrified Forest one time, that movie with Bogart and Davis, and he told me about his trip west in 1919, just after the war. How there weren’t highways crossing the United States, not even through roads. He had a car, and God knows how he afforded it, but he and my grandmother made the trip west together – from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. A few cities had paved streets – paved with brick, he said – but by and large the roads that connected cities were primitive things, often little more than sandy tracks winding through desert scrub. With the hard, narrow tires that cars had in those days, the wheels settled down in the soft sand, often so deep that drive shafts were worn down by the rocks and the sand, and he had to replace two solid steel shafts between El Paso and Flagstaff. Just polished down to nothing, worn down by the miles. Took them almost three weeks to make the trip, and he admitted to me that night, once the movie was over, he should have taken the train and bought a car once he got to LA, but that wasn’t my grandfather’s idea of life. He wanted to get out there in the world, smell the road, meet people along the way and maybe have some fun and get in trouble too, because that’s what life was all about. I guess he passed that on to me, for better or worse, because in the end I bought Troubadour and sailed to those sandy, out of the way places.

I didn’t plan things that way, however. Things just kind of happened.

The way things always kind of happen. Unexpected things, the kind of people you never thought you’d run into, not in a million years. Doing things I never thought I wanted to do, going places that held no interest to me – until I got there. Life for me, before Troubadour, had been like the first thirty seconds of a roller coaster ride, the part where the ratcheting chain hauls you up that first huge incline. I was in the lead car right about then, too, looking out at the world during that little pause at the top, just before the car takes off down that first steep drop. There is, I seem to recall, this flash of anticipation up there, then a little fluttering exhilaration in your gut as you slowly roll forward – followed by a dawning awareness that life might be far more interesting elsewhere, anywhere else than on this roller coaster. Maybe I never felt that way, not in that moment before the fall, but about half way through my ride I began to develop an appreciation for smooth bicycles on warm country roads. Funny thing, though. That was my fault, not the roller-coaster’s.

Which, I think, makes Troubadour all the more ironic. Troubadour was a nonstop roller coaster ride, yet she’s an old friend now. I know her aches and pains, her ups and downs as well as I know my own – yet what makes that such an off-putting idea is she’s not flesh and bones. She’s a boat, but she’s been my friend, too. A boat that became a reflection of my life. You go places with friends. You look back at that reflection and if you’ve done it right all you see is love.

+++++

I started playing the piano in kindergarten, maybe a little before. I was pretty good too, or so people told me, for a five year old. My teacher, a crusty old man who kept a regal old Steinway grand in his music room, seemed to think I had talent, but I was always more interested in composing music, not playing. And not to make to big a deal about it, but I always hated performing in front of people. My first recital was a disaster, and that set the stage for many more over the years, and I think, in an odd way, my reaction to that first trembling moment paved the way for Troubadour. I do okay playing one on one, or even with a people looking over my shoulder, but if you put me in a venue with hundreds of people I come undone. Just can’t do it, if you know what I mean. It’s not stage fright…it’s stage catatonia. I got over it once, for a while, but you know how these things go. They come back when you least expect them, and it ain’t pleasant.

Anyway, some time in junior high a bunch of really hip kids decided to form a band. Mind you, these guys were like twelve years old and had never played an instrument in their lives, but two of them got electric guitars for Christmas and started banging out the four-chord progression of Louie-Louie, and another friend got a massive Ludwig drum set – because that’s what Ringo played, don’t you know – and they needed someone who could play bass. Well, I could. I was playing both the acoustic bass and guitar by that point, and my grandfather had a massive pipe organ in his house that I’d been playing for years, so I had that one under my belt too.

At any rate, they convinced me to join them and I guess you could say I taught them how to play their instruments over the next year. One of the kids, Pete Davis, was a soulful twelve year old who liked writing poetry and was getting decent on his drums, and we started putting music to the words in his head. Anyway, he’d share his musings with us and somehow real music started to take shape. Hey, you never know, right?

I looked back on those first compositions of ours as something really else, the wonder of coming of age condensed into two and a half minutes of pre-pubescent wailings about acne and nocturnal emissions. We were twelve, you see, yet even then sex had become the center of our existence, and we were pegged to play at our school’s Spring Dance the last weekend of our last year in junior high. We had a couple of our own pieces to play but by and large we were set to grind out a bunch of Beatles and Stones songs, with me doing double duty on bass and keyboards.

I was, of course, terrified, and now I need to mention my, well, my grandmother. Her name is Terry, and she was not quite fifteen years older than me. She was Pops’, my grandfather’s third wife. The first two died on him, but that’s neither here nor there. Pops was a producer by then, kind of a big deal in Hollywood, and Terry was not even half his age. So let’s get this out in the open right now: I had a thing for my grandmother. She was an actress, by the way, and Life Magazine called her The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. So did I. Whenever she walked into my room at home I damn near had a heart attack. Yes, I had it bad. Real bad.

Anyway, I was talking to Pops and Terry about my stage fright one night and Terry told me she did too, even when she was on a movie set. Oh yeah, Terry’s English, grew up in London, and as the Beatles and the Stones were the rage that vibe kind of rubbed off on her. So, Terry worked with me, showed me a few tricks to make the terror a little more manageable. Some of these worked better than others. C’est la vie, right?

So, not only were there several hundred people at that dance, I knew each and every one of people in that room. I had chewed my fingernails down to bleeding stumps by the time we were set to take the stage, and I found that the only way I could play was to turn my back to the dance floor – so I did. For two hours I rocked and rolled and I had not have the slightest idea if anyone else was out there, and when it was finally all over I packed my stuff and went home – and vowed I’d never do anything like that ever again.

We were, of course, invited to participate in a local ‘battle of the bands’ contest to be held in early July, and we needed two songs of our own in order to be contestants so were turned Pete’s composition into something really special while I cobbled together something generic and altogether bland for our second entry and we practiced and practiced until we were blue in the face – then it was time to set up our instruments on what was indeed a really BIG stage.

“How many people are out there?” I asked one of the promoters.

“Oh, last year we had almost two thousand, but we’ve sold five thousand tickets so far…”

My knees were knocking by the time they announced us, but I turned the organ so I faced away from the lights and we launched into Pete’s soliloquy – a soothing, polished love song that just sounded silly when five twelve year olds sang it, but the girls out there loved it and they went wild.

Then we slipped right into ‘Lucy-Goosey’ – my hastily contrived fluff piece, and we brought down the house. We won, too. The contest, and we picked up a recording contract – with Lucy on the A side and Pete’s soliloquy on the flip side. The 45 sold a half million copies before we were in high school and as I was the songwriter listed on Lucy the lions share came to me.

And that was the end of that, of course. Lots of bitter vibes because of money. Always. Yet Pete and I stayed together, he always stuck with me, through thick or thin, and I never turned my back on him, either.

I haven’t mentioned my parents because, well, they died when I was young, like three years old. An airplane crash, a jetliner taking off from Mexico City, and really, I haven’t the slightest memory of either of them. I lived with my father’s father and his second wife, and I grew up in Beverly Hills. Then she died, and I don’t want to make too big a deal about it, but death kind of defined my reality. Things didn’t last, people died – and that was that. My parents were show business types, too; he a director and she an actress of some repute, and I don’t know how to say this other than I grew up around Hollywood types, lots of famous people were always around the dinner table, so my upbringing left me with, well, a different sense of proportion. If people saw glamorous stars and western heroes, I saw sullen, moody drunks sitting by the pool out back – all fawning over Terry’s – my third grandmother’s – legs. I mention all this only to add context to the sudden fame thrust on me after Lucy-Goosey went platinum later that summer. I also mention Terry’s legs because they truly were the most fantastic things on earth, and it’s a bitch growing up lusting after your grandmother.

I, for my part, decided to concentrate on classical compositions after our band fell apart, which pissed a whole lot of people off, but I kept at it all through high school and into college, yet by that time what little fame Lucy generated had all but slipped away – and I was grateful, because I considered the piece pure garbage.

If I forget to mention it later, all musicians hate their own stuff. The more they hate it the better it sells. Go figure.

So, anyway, I went to Stanford unencumbered by all that fame baggage, and I studied composition and philosophy with no job in mind – until a friend asked me to join a group he was putting together. Once it became more widely known among those people that I had, once upon a time, penned Lucy-Goosey, well, they wanted me to join their little group.

“I always wondered what happened to you,” Deni Dalton said, and that’s how we met, Deni and I. She had this smokey voice that seemed to seethe dark sexuality, and when she looked me in the eye I felt like a banana being peeled in the monkey house. Whatever protective layers I had on that day, say that look of smug condescension I liked to slip on from time to time, she cut through like a hot scalpel.

Deni was Music wrapped in pure Sin. She was bigger than life. I was in love with her within minutes, but then again everyone who laid eyes on her fell in love. She always wore black, too, back in those early days. Black hair and black eyes, heavy black makeup – she was pure Goth before there was such a thing.

And she had kind of a black heart, too. Mercenary, I guess you’d say. Not educated, yet smart, and from a very poor family. She read people like others read books, and maybe because of her upbringing she had a thing for money. She was always looking for the angle that would lead to fame and fortune, and I think after she took one look at me she saw an irresistable opening. Turns out she knew more about me than I did.

“Your Dad still with Universal?” she asked.

“My father died when I was three.”

“Aaron Dorskin? He’s not your pops?”

“My grandfather.”

“Oh, right. He’s still with Universal, ain’t he?”

“Last I heard.”

“Well, we’re looking for someone new on keys, and Luke says we should give a listen. So, I’m listening.”

We were in the living room of this run down three story house in Berkeley, and all there was in the room, besides a dozen or so people on a u-shaped purple velvet sofa, was an old upright piano – and then, wouldn’t you just know it, one of the girls on the sofa went down on the guy sitting next to her.

So…I looked at this chick for a moment and started playing to her rhythm, then Deni caught where I was and she stood and started swaying to the music coming from the girl’s mouth. I was drifting between Bartok and Dave Evans until this chick hit the short strokes, then I just let the music flow for a while, a loose, swirling flow, and Deni came to me and kissed me for a long time, before she and I played a little music of our own. But that was Deni. When she felt like sex was the key inside the moment, she played every note she knew.

And so began a very interesting time in my life. I like to think of it as my purple paisley patchouli period, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

+++++

It was a funky house, of that much I am certain. Channing Way was kind of an epicenter of seismic music in Berkeley for a few years back in the late sixties, and maybe Deni’s purple paisley house was ground zero. Her background was coffee house folk, kind of a dark California counterpoint to Paul Simon’s more upbeat New York vibe, and you might get that if irony is your thing. If Simon had inherited a little Gershwin, Deni had been mainlining Thelonius Monk – for years – yet she felt like she was ready for fatter, more complicated sounds. She wanted to create fat, epochal rock, anthems for a new generation already grown tired of Beatlemania. She didn’t want cool reflecting pools, she wanted steamrollers and wrecking balls. Most of all, she didn’t want to play small clubs anymore. She wanted to hit college campuses and then, maybe, if she got lucky, move on to bigger and better things, but she saw rock and roll as a doorway, an entry into something really big and bold.

To me, as a keyboardist in 1968, big and bold – and fat – meant synthesizers and mellotrons. Yes, fat is a term – usually associated with big, beefy synthesizer intros. Those two instruments, I surmised, might allow some of the more bombastic elements of classical forms to merge with the somewhat more simplistic forms of rock that seemed to be yearning for release – and like every other classically trained musician on the planet I realized Sgt Peppers had shown us the way to the door, while Pet Sounds had given us the courage to break on through to the other side. Martin and the Beatles began introducing classical motifs on Sgt Peppers, but it was their Fixing A Hole that caught fire in Deni’s mind. The Beatles married the baroque to old English choral music and it was brilliant, but it wasn’t American. The Beatles were a Jaguar XK-E: think of something restrained and elegant, gorgeous yet full of barely contained potential; what Deni wanted was a Shelby Cobra with glowing pipes, something untamed and unleashed, music that would overpower the soul and make people scream – when elation overpowered sensibility.

She had some ‘cred in the music business, but not a lot, not the kind I had, anyway – but what I did have was Pops, my grandfather. He was fairly high up on the food chain at Universal, and their MCA Records division wanted to cash in on the exploding pop/rock market that Capitol had cornered. So, we retreated into the house on Channing Way one February day and didn’t come out again until May, and only then did three of us hop in someone’s old VW Microbus and slither down the 101 to Burbank – and went to Pop’s office.

He was old by then, seriously old, but he was also sharp as a tack. We walked in and he looked at us like we’d just crawled out from under a rock, which, I have to say, wasn’t too far from the truth.

“Aaron,” he asked when he quasi-recognized me, “is that you under that hair?”

You see, by 1968 my hair was hanging down somewhere south of my knees, and George Harrison’s beard had nothing on mine. Well, his was probably cleaner.

“Hey, Pops,” I said, ‘Pops’ being my characteristic greeting. “We need a recording studio. I want to cut an album.”

I am not, you understand, one to waste time on idle chit-chat.

“Oh?” he said, with one raised eyebrow. One eyebrow meant he was listening. Two meant you needed to start running for the door.

So I tossed our demo reel on his desk, a big Tascam reel-to-reel spool, and he looked at it, then at Deni. And you have to understand this about Pops: he was only interested in her tits by this point. If she could sing, great, but she had great tits and I could see that working over in his mind – as in: she’ll look great on an album cover. He had no interest in her physically, only in the commercial appeal of Deni’s tits.

So he picked up his phone and dialed an extension.

“Lew? Aaron’s here, and he has a demo. Can I send him up now?”

So off we went, off to see the wizard. A dozen people gathered and listened to our demo and we walked out an hour later with a recording contract. We hopped in the VW and drove back up the 101 in a blinding rainstorm, got back to the purple paisley house a little after midnight – and Deni attacked me then. In a good way, if you know what I mean. We came up for air a few days later, and the really interesting thing about us is we realized we were heroin to one another. We were dangerously intoxicated when we mixed, so much so we knew we were in danger of losing ourselves, each to the other. We stepped back after that, afraid of combusion.

Yet after those two days and nights wrapped up in one another, Deni dropped the whole Black Goth thing and went in for this deep purple paisley look. Flowing silk capes of purple, and then the house began to reek of patchouli. Patchouli incense was burning 24/7, and she put patchouli oil in everything, notably the polish she used to wipe down her rosewood furniture. The scent wasn’t quite overpowering, but it came close, and the whole patchouli thing became indelibly linked to those months. I can’t not think of her when I run across that scent.

Anyway, we loaded up all our gear and ambled back to Burbank a week later, and we had several days booked to get the sound we wanted down on tape. I’ve since read books on musicians of that era, these being little more than monographs of artistic egoism run amok, and I shudder to think what would have happened to us if that had been the case. Instead, it seemed as if Deni and her mates knew this was their one big shot, and they had to get the job done this time or prepare to wait tables for the rest of their lives. We came together, Pete and I – and her friends, and the results were something else.

We ended up spending a month in the studio, yet before we were finished MCA released a single that shot up the charts into the top-10, and on the strength of that alone they booked us to play three nights at the Universal Amphitheater later that summer – and I didn’t think anything about it at the time, maybe because I was so wrapped up in the moment.

Deni was our lyricist, and she was a good one too, but she wasn’t quite what I’d have called an original. She listened to other recording artists all the time, listening for inspiration and ideas. Always looking for new ways to spin a phrase, new transitions between parts of a song – yet she couldn’t read or write music, what’s you might call notation. She had an instinctual grasp of the inherent order within a musical phrase, but she couldn’t see structure when expressed in notes and chords on a piece of paper. This wasn’t a big deal as I looked at the innate phrasing of her lyrical constructs and went from there, and as she wrote new stuff she’d come over to me and sing variations. Not a big deal, and most pop music is created that way these days, but it was a big move away from the classical paradigm – where arias are derived from the inherent structure within a passage of music.

An unknown named Elton John showed up while we were in the studio and he listened for a while then disappeared, and I dropped by one of his sessions a few days later and was blown away by his exuberance, his showmanship – even in the studio. And it hit me then, my lump on a log stage mannerism. I was not and would never be an Elton John. He was an impressionist masterpiece, and I was a Dutch still life – destined to reside on the edge of the stage, the edge of the world, my back to the action – and I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. As soon as the lights went up I began to freeze inside, like my mind was suddenly and completely encased in brittle ice.

So, the album was released and it was a bigger hit than even Pops thought it would be. And yes, there was lots of cleavage on the front cover. Purple paisley and cleavage. My God, Deni did have canyons of cleavage. We played a few small gigs on Sunset and Hollywood, a few parties in the Hills of Beverly too, and we started mapping out our second album during that time. Then our first night at the Amphitheater came up and everything inside just kind of snapped. I couldn’t even walk out on stage for our practice session that afternoon, and for the first time what had been kind of a modest idiosyncrasy turned into a real liability. I looked at my mates looking at me and I knew they couldn’t understand…hell, I didn’t understand…but this was something that could seriously fuck up their chances of making it big.

Pops called a doc, some Beverly Hills shrink, and she came out and gave me a shot in the hip, told me to rest for a half hour, and she sat with me and we talked.

She looked like Faye Dunaway, if you know who I mean. About fifty, blond hair and seriously gorgeous. Smart? Dear God. It was like she had this ability to look inside souls, take an inventory and figure out what was wrong. Me? It was all about losing my parents when I was a kid. My dad was an actor and he had gone down to Mexico, to Acapulco, to receive some kind of award, and their plane crashed on the way back, so yeah, separation anxiety lead to more and more anxieties and Pops had had no idea. Hell, neither did I. But Terry did. Anyway, understanding did not lead to catharsis and by the time we were called on stage I was no better. The doc’s magic potion helped, but Terry was there and just seeing her helped me keep it together long enough to do the show, and while it was magic, the ovations and the wild applause, as I walked offstage I passed right out. Down like a sack of potatoes, right on the edge of the stage.

Or so I read in newspaper accounts the next morning. Despite not having diabetes the episode was ascribed to hypoglycemia and that was that. I spent all that next day working with a studio musician who would be on standby, a kind of understudy, in case I cratered that night – and of course I did.

I watched from backstage as this stranger played my music, and in fact he played better than I had, a supple fact not lost on Deni and my bandmates. I didn’t even show up for the third night’s performance, and when we returned to Berkeley the next day everyone tried to not make a big deal about it – but I knew something had changed between us. We all did, Deni most of all. I felt like damaged goods, a broken doll that not even all the king’s men could put back together, but we started writing music and pretty soon all was forgotten – if not forgiven.

We went back to Burbank a few months later and started laying down tracks when word came that we were going to tour North America in the fall and Europe the coming winter – and I started going to the shrink in Beverly Hills more often. Maybe she could help, I told my mates. Yeah, maybe, they said.

Then a funny thing happened. The shrink invited me to go sailing with some friends of hers the next morning. I accepted the invitation, too, if only because I wanted to get to know her better, and I ran out and got a haircut too. Bought some boat shoes, of all things, and some natty red sailing shorts to go with them. Oh, I looked so Beverly Hills!

The boat, a huge racing yacht that had been famous in the 30s, belonged to her husband, of course, a billionaire property developer who owned half of LA, and they had a professional crew sailing the boat so all I had to do was sit around and look interested in my boat shoes. Yet the truth of the matter was I did indeed find sailing interesting. In fact, the idea of sailing away from all my anxiety seemed very enticing. I talked to the skipper about boats and sailing for a while and I learned a lot that afternoon.

There was another couple on the boat that day, a property developer from Newport Beach who had brought his wife and daughter along. The girl looked a little younger than I, and she was studying some kind of psychology at UC Irvine. And hey, she loved our single. Her name was, of course, Jennifer. Every other girl in OC is named Jennifer, has been since the beginning of time.

She looked like one of Southern California’s home grown Hitler Youth so common to Orange County back in the day: rich, privileged, blond haired and blue eyed, yet she was sweet in a troubled kind of way – and she loved sailing. Well, I thought I might love sailing too so we had something in common, right? Anyway, we talked boats and I figured out pretty quick she knew a lot more about boats than I ever would, that she’d grown up around boats, and also that she really, really liked our single. She even had an original 45 of Lucy-Goosey, bless her heart, and we went out for a burger after we got back to the marina, then I drove her down to Newport, to her dorm at UCI, but when we got there she pointed me towards the beach and we went down to the peninsula, watched the moon fall on Catalina just before the sun decided to show up for a return engagement. She was sweet and I got into her way of talking real fast, thought it was kind of cool.

There was a boat show in Newport, she told me, usually in April or May, and she wanted to know if I’d come down and go to it with her. I said ‘sure, sounds fun’ before I knew what had happened, and we looked at one another when I dropped her off at the dorm like we were not quite sure where this was going. I wanted to kiss her, and I could tell she wanted me to, but I couldn’t – because I was afraid, and I told her so, too. I told her about seeing the shrink, about my looming performance anxiety and she seemed to understand. Anyway, I gave her my number at Pop’s house and she leaned over and kissed me once, gently, then again, not so gently, and then she told me I didn’t have anything to be worried about where she was concerned and everything kind of slipped into place after that. Right there in the car, as a matter of fact.

We finished the second album over the next few weeks then took a break, our first big tour not scheduled to begin for a month or so, and I went to Pop’s house to unwind. Everything seemed pretty much the same there, except Pops seemed to be slowing down, and suddenly, too. He said his back hurt more than it had until recently, and Terry and I talked him into going to see his doc.

And Jennifer called my first night there, said she was going to be at the marina Saturday and wanted to know if I wanted to go out on a new boat. Sure, I said, and we set a time to meet up – and after that I couldn’t think about anything other than her – until my next appointment with the shrink, anyway. Pop’s internist was in the same building as my shrink so I dropped him off for his appointment then ducked in for mine, but when I came back for him an hour later he was still inside – so I sat and waited.

And waited.

And a nurse finally came out and asked for me, led me back to some forbidden inner sanctum – where I found Pops all red-eyed, an old internist handing him tissues. Prostate cancer, advanced well into the spine was the preliminary diagnosis, but biopsies would be done early Monday morning and we’d go from there. We left and he was pissed off because the same doc had told him a year ago the pain was probably related to a fall he’d taken a few years before. Maybe if he’d been more thorough he’d have a chance now, he said, because if it had moved into the spine that was it.

“What do you mean, that’s it?”

I understand my parents died when I was three, but since then no one I knew had kicked the bucket – and now, all of a sudden, the most important person in my life was telling me he was going to die, soon? That this was it? The ride was over?

I had an emotional disconnect about that time, I guess you might say. I was a little more concerned with my well being than his in that moment, a little more than afraid – for me. No, let me rephrase that. I fell apart and we held on to one another there in the lobby for way too long, then we walked over to Nate ‘n Al’s for bagels and lox. He called some of his buddies from the studio, told them to come over for a few hands of poker that night – which was code for ‘shit has hit the fan’ and we sat there watching the ice melt in our glasses of iced tea, neither of us knowing what the hell to say to one another. Terry would surely come apart at the seams tonight, he said, then this lanky gentleman walked in and came over to our booth and sat down next to me.

Jimmy Stewart, in town between shoots and an old friend of the family, looked at Pops and sighed. “Aaron, you look awful. Now tell-tell me, why-why-why all the long faces?”

So Pops lays it out there and then Jimmy is all upset, the ice in his iced tea is melting along with ours, then he finally turns and looks at me.

“Heard that album of yours. It sure isn’t Benny Goodman, is it?”

Pops broke out laughing at that. “It sure isn’t, but that lead singer of theirs sure has great gonzagas. World class, if you know what I mean.”

Stewart rolled his eyes, shook his head. “All he can think about at a time like this is tits. Aaron? You’ll never change.”

“Amen to that, brother,” Pops said. “What do you have in that sack, James? Another model airplane?”

“Yup, yup. Me ‘n Hank Fonda, you know how that goes?”

“Did you ever see his model room, Aaron?” Pops asked me.

“Yessir, been a few years, but…”

“I was building that B-52 when you were up there, wasn’t I?” Jimmy recalled. “Wingspan this big,” he said, holding his hands about a mile apart and we all laughed. He got up and patted Pops on the shoulder a minute later, told him he’d call soon, then he ambled over to a table where Gloria was already waiting and I could see the expression on her face when he told her. Small town, Beverly Hills. Good people, too.

I got up early and drove down to the marina, met Jennifer at the anointed hour and she took me down to a slip below an apartment building and hopped aboard a brand new Swan 4o. There were two other girls onboard already and they slipped the lines, let Jennifer back the boat out of the slip while they readied the sails. We sailed out of the marina after that, then turned south for Palos Verdes – and with barely enough wind to fill the sails the girls soon gave up and turned the engine on. Seems they were delivering the boat from the marina to it’s new owner down at the LA Yacht Club and I was along for the ride, but by the time we cleared the Point Vicente lighthouse we had enough wind to raise sail again and had a rip-roaring nine mile sleigh ride after that. Feeling the motion, the wind through my hair – the power within the wind – was almost a religious experience, too. I was hooked, big time.

That was difference, too, between 40 feet and 83. The smaller boat felt almost alive compared to the old J-class boat I’d sailed on the week before, and I found myself mesmerized by the brisk sensations. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jennifer studied my face that day, told me once she was reliving her earliest sailing experiences by watching my reactions that day. She was very dialed into me, I guess you could say, even then.

We turned the boat over to her new owner and drove down to Newport Beach, stopped and had an early dinner at The Crab Cooker, and after we dropped off the girls she drove me back up to the marina, and I told her about Pops then, about what my grandfather really meant to me, and she remained quiet all the while, let me ramble-on until we pulled into the lot where I’d left my car. She parked and turned to face me, leaned the side of her face on the seat and stared at me.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked. “Try to go on tour?”

“I don’t think I can do that. I need to be here now, with him.”

She nodded her head. “I think so, too. You need anyone to talk to, just call me. Any time, day or night. Got it?”

I nodded my head, then looked her in the eye. “What happens if I fall in love with you?”

“If?” she said, grinning.

“Okay. When I fall in love with you?”

“Are you sure you haven’t already?”

I can still feel that moment, even now. Like it was the most important moment of my life, those precious seconds are still right there with me, wherever I go.

“I know exactly when I fell in love with you,” I said – still looking in her eyes.

“Oh?”

“About a minute ago. Before that I was fighting it.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“I think you’ve been fighting it all day. I know I have.”

I smiled, felt real relief inside, then asked: “You want to go meet my Pops?”

She nodded her head. “Yeah. I think that’d be a good thing.”

So we went. She met Pops and he loved her too, which was kind of a good thing. It was the first time I’d ever come home with a girl, and the moment wasn’t lost on either of us. My grandmother, Terry, was a little coy about the whole thing, a little too reserved one minute then effusive the next, but by the time we left she’d come around too. Back then I could never quite tell what was on Terry’s mind.

“So, you’re the one?” Pops asked when he walked us to the driveway, and Jennifer didn’t know what to say just then, but I did.

“Yeah, Pops, she’s the one. You mind if we run off to Vegas and do the deed, or did you want us to do it here?”

“Let’s all go to Vegas,” he said. “I can hit the tables after, and who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky,” he added, popping my grandmother lightly on her tail-feathers.

And we all laughed at that, even my grandmother, but we weren’t fooling anyone. Not by a long shot. Life’s never as simple as it seems, especially when it’s staring you in the face.

“He’s kind of cool,” Jennifer said as we drove back to the marina. “Old school Hollywood, I guess.”

“He is that. Not many like him left in this town.”

“Thanks for letting me meet him. Even if you were joking…”

And I looked at her just then, like maybe I’d been joking, and maybe I hadn’t. And she looked at me, too.

“You were joking, weren’t you?”

“We’ve known each other a week,” I said. “Maybe it would be nuts, but I haven’t been able to think about anything but you for days.”

And when she nodded her head she looked down, didn’t say a word. There were a million unheard stories in that glance, too.

“What about you,” I asked. “Am I too late? Already spoken for?”

“I was serious about a guy in high school, and we kept dating after, even after I went to Stockton and he went to SC. We broke up six months ago, well, right before Christmas.”

“What happened?”

“He met a girl, I guess. ‘Someone better, less complicated’ was the way he put it.”

“Jeez. That’s a nice way of putting things.”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“No one since?”

She shook her head. “It messed with my head pretty bad. We’re seeing the same shrink, you know?”

No, I didn’t, but it kind of made since now so I nodded my head. “What happened?” I asked.

“Pills. My roommate found me in time, got me to the ER. Pumped my stomach, that whole scene. I came home after that. Haven’t been back to school since, not really.”

“You going to finish your degree?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Anything else you want to do?”

“I like sailing, that’s about all though. Dad put up some money to get a sailboat maker up and running, and I’m going to start working in the marketing and sales department this summer. I guess we’ll see how that goes.”

“Sounds kind of fun. Not a lot of stress, anyway, and doing something you love.”

“What about you? You going to keep playing?”

“I don’t know, composing, anyway, and maybe working on studio tracks. We have a studio musician who’s preparing to go out on the road if I can’t handle our next concert.”

“Where’s it going to be?”

“San Francisco, at the Fillmore. Hendrix is going to be there, some Brits, too. Should be a scene.”

“Wow…”

“You wanna come up?”

“You sure you want me to?”

“You know, we were talking about getting married a few minutes ago. Nothing’s changed, as far as I can tell, anyway.”

She looked at me again and I could see it all over her face, in her eyes. Not quite shame, but a real close cousin. Something deeper than embarrassed, anyway. Trying to kill yourself – and failing – had to be hard to deal with by yourself, but to lay it all out there like she just had? She either had guts or she wanted to see how real I was. The thing is, I wasn’t running. I think I started to really fall for her after that. I mean a deep kind of falling in love, like I wanted to take care of her. I know that seems a little off, but when I saw her vulnerabilities I wanted to be stronger so I could help her carry the load.

And I think that was a turning point for me. Seeing myself as someone strong, someone she could depend on.

Anyway, when we made it to her car we got out and walked around the marina for a while, looked at boats and talked about sailing – and I held her hand all the while. The thought I’d let go of her in a minute or two, let her drive back to Newport without me was hitting home real hard, a lot harder than I expected it would, and I stopped in front of a hotel there, turned her into my arms and I just held onto her. Maybe like forever, if you know what I mean, then I kissed her, told her that I loved her and maybe we should go get a room.

I remember those eyes of hers. Looking up at me then, so full of lingering intensity. She was so insanely gorgeous, too, probably the most beautiful girl I’d ever known, and if that asshole boyfriend hadn’t fucked her up she would have been okay – or at least I kept telling myself that over the years. And hell, who knows, maybe I believed it, too, but she was fragile after that breakdown. Always was, right up to the day she finally left us.

+++++

I drove up to Berkeley a few days later, as it was time to start rehearsing for our Fillmore gig. That ‘feeling stronger’ vibe stuck with me, too, and I felt good about going out on stage for the first time in my life. Deni picked up on the vibe, and she was ecstatic about the whole Jennifer thing, too. Rehearsals went great and I picked Jennie up the night before we were set to play, and we went down in time to listen to The Nice. There weren’t many of us trying to bring new technology onstage, but Keith Emerson was creating quite a storm on stage and everyone was hanging around in this haze of expectation, waiting for him, and Hendrix.

Hendrix was the current God du jour, but for any keyboardists watching that night, Keith Emerson was surreal. Here was someone, finally, bringing classical structure into rock, and while his rendering of Bernstein’s America was electric, what caught me was a piece called the Five Bridges Suite, which fused classical with jazz and rock. About halfway through that piece I started to look around at the crowd and found a kind of swaying trance had taken hold. People didn’t want to dance now, they had been transported somewhere else, someplace deep within Music, deeper than I’d ever thought possible. Even Jennie said “wow!” when those guys wrapped up and drifted into the crowd…

But when finally Jimi came out the place erupted, and when The Experience started in with Fire you could understand what the electricity was all about. I hung on ‘til they finished up with The Wind Cries Mary, and when I looked around the place I could feel something else passing through the crowd, something hard to put my finger on, but what struck me was the power music held over that crowd. Something awesome and huge, some force I’d never reckoned with before, and what got me right then was Emerson. He was watching the crowd too, gauging the sudden surge of empathy, and I guess like me he was lost inside the wonder of the moment.

One other thing that hit me just then, too: the amount of pot hanging in the air. From fifty feet back the air was literally a purple haze, and with the multi-colored stage lights bathing the area around Hendrix the atmosphere was otherworldly. I knew a couple of cops were working the back of the crowd, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be them in this place. After the ‘free-speech’ demonstrations across the bay over the last few months, their was another ‘something’ hanging in the air, apparent, and it weren’t purdy, if you know what I mean. And that vibe was the raw underbelly of music at the Fillmore…that something in the air. It was beyond revolution, more like anarchy, and it was growing.

Sure, a lot of the music was about ‘peace and love’ but there was an awful lot of anger in the air; even so there was this Hell’s Angels vibe going around, too, an undercurrent of outlaw malevolence that felt rooted in the desire to burn everything down to the ground. That was San Francisco then and I suspect it’s always been that way. Like some people working the fringes wanted to create something new, but to me it felt like this Fillmore fringe didn’t really care who got burned along the way. So, yeah, I think there was real anarchy in this group, like this new fringe wanted their parent’s world to dissolve within the purple haze hanging over that crowd inside the Fillmore, all emotion rooted in infantile rebellion, like the tantrums of spoiled children.

Yet sometimes children are right, too.

That was in the air, too. Even the music. Our parent’s forms and structures, subverted and inverted, creating something new, anarchic and inclusive. Like the Beatles opened the doors to polite society and now the riffraff was rushing in – burning babies in Electric Ladyland. Music was, right before our eyes, becoming more political than it had in a hundred years, when Wagner politicized opera in post-Napoleonic Europe. If you think that’s trivial stuff, just consider for a moment that Marx grew out of that music, and so did Darwin.

So yeah, something was stirring in the underbelly of that crowd. Something big and noisy, and maybe ugly, too.

+++++

We were the first gig of the night, so we set up early and I looked around the place while I helped hook up the Moog and Mellotron. The air clear now, the room didn’t look all that big, or like a place full of wild magic. Just a room, I thought, not unlike the other gigs  around this city, yet I had felt those forces the night before. Emerson had too. We talked after Hendrix left, talked about the vibe we’d seen and felt, and we talked in epochal terms about music shape-shifting to the needs of the moment. About the politics of music. We talked Nixon and Vietnam and John Wayne and about the image of a girl who had put a flower down the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. Everything was linked, he said, but the links weren’t easy to see – not yet, anyway. Music had to become the fabric that joined all these disparate factions, and musicians had to claim their place as leaders of this movement. Heady stuff, and even Jenn seemed caught up in the moment. Emerson was a philosopher-king, if ever there was one.

Yet standing up there on that stage looking out over that empty room it was hard to see music as anything other than a diversion. Maybe we were the sideshow to the real action. I’d just read Jerry Rubin’s ‘Do It!’ – a real Bay Area anarchist’s manifesto – and I wondered: could music take on the weight of so much revolutionary zeal, shoulder that burden? Or would music fragment the way society seemed to be fragmenting?

Even when I worked with Deni it was there – this impulse to fly apart, to head off in uncharted new directions, and there wasn’t some unseen political hand pushing us towards a grand unified theory of musicians leading a movement. Most of the kids on stage were just that: they liked to play the guitar or the keys, and egos got big under that tent. We got off on making music together, yet I can’t recall ever sitting around and saying “Wow, did you see those riots up on campus today! We got to write about that!”

Yeah, but there was one anthem out there that contradicts all that vibe, and I loved it. For What It’s Worth, by the Buffalo Springfield – and maybe that’s the vibe Emerson was channeling that night in the purple haze – but the idea hit me then that I had always seen music as a reflection of events, not a means to change things, but maybe it could be both and I’d never really seen it as such – and I had an idea.

I hadn’t played Lucy-Goosey in years. The music had dissolved into that early Beatles-like haze of I Wanna Hold Your Hand and She Loves You, Yeah-Yeah-Yeah, but it was still there, buried somewhere in our collective unconscious – so what if we…

Deni was kind of entranced by the whole thing, too, and she came up with a few bridges to make the pop refrains relevant once again. Lucy was going to go from bubble-gum chewing sycophant to radical anarchist on stage that night, and the whole thing was taking shape in a burst of creativity that had come out of nowhere, man.

When the lights went down a slide was projected on the wall behind the stage, an image of that girl sticking a daisy down the barrel of the national guardsman’s rifle, and I walked out and got behind the keyboards – then turned and looked at Jennifer standing in the shadows backstage and I smiled, then turned to face the sea of faces and raised my fist, then the room went black – with just a small spot on me, and that image of the girl hanging back there behind the purple haze.

I started with the simplest piano refrains from Lucy-Goosey and the sea of faces went silent as quiet expectation replaced hyped anticipation, and my piano was almost in chopsticks mode: simple notes even a child could play, awakening memory. Our lead guitar stepped out and another spot hit him, and he started echoing my simplistic melody. Deni came out next and the crowd erupted, then as quickly shut down as she started into an even simpler, quieter version of my original lyric, and she turned to a small harp and echoed my notes as the lights faded, leaving only the image of the girl with the daisy – which soon faded to black as my piano grew softer, then silent. In the darkness the rest of the band came out and when the lights flared we turned Lucy into a molotov cocktail throwing radical with what I’d say presaged a grungy-heavy metal infused sound – music that no one in the audience had heard before – and the surge of energy was cataclysmic. I kept the simple piano melody going, but that was echoed by soaring, dark chords on the Mellotron, and with Deni’s inverted lyrics Lucy’s transformation was complete.

And I felt that transformation in my soul, too, like I’d just grown up. The insecure teenager died out there that night, and when we walked offstage an hour later I walked into Jennifer’s arms and held on tight, because I knew the ride ahead was about to get real bumpy.

+++++

Pops was a lot sicker than he let on, and he kept everything wrapped up and put away, out of sight. Every time I called he was ‘fine, doing great’ – and Terry, my ‘grandmother’ went along with his charades, and it worked – ‘til we came to LA to play several concerts around town. I went home after our first night and when I saw him I burst out crying. I couldn’t help it.

“Do I look that bad?” he asked.

He looked like an orange scarecrow, only worse.

“The color,” he said, “is from liver failure. I kind of like it, too. Like a walking traffic sign, don’t you think? When I walk out of the doctor’s office everyone stops and stares.”

I felt sick, too, just looking at him, and then Terry told me he had maybe a month or two left, and I kind of fractured when I heard that. Like I didn’t know what to think. Pops was my last link to an almost invisible past, and without him I would be well and truly alone. There weren’t any brothers or sisters or aunts and uncles, there was just me and Pops. I was going to be, if I remained alone and childless, the last of the line.

And that was a big question hanging in the air between us.

“What’s with Jennifer?” he wanted to know.

“We’re good,” I said, but there was something else hanging in the air. That whole fragile thing. She was depressed, and when she started going down that hole she turned to dolls to pick her back up. Dolls, as in The Valley of The. Pills, in other words, and here I need to digress a little. I didn’t do pills. I didn’t smoke – anything. I didn’t drink much, because I didn’t like the whole idea of losing control. I know, like the idea we have some kind of control is an almost comic idea, but the point is we do have the ability to control some things, and losing what little I had was to me a Very Bad Thing. I tripped all I wanted when I disappeared inside my music, but I could come out of it intact and lucid. I had seen Deni disappear down the LSD rabbit hole and not come out for days, and that scared the shit out of me. We’d been through two lead guitarists over the course of a year simply because one drug or another had taken them someplace they just couldn’t break free of, and I wasn’t going there.

So when I saw Jennifer headed down the same road I told her it worried me, and she told me to fuck off. So I did. I put her on a plane back to her father and told him what was going down, and what I heard back from him wasn’t worth mentioning, because he’d thought he was done with her and wasn’t happy to have her back under his roof.

I started spending more and more time in LA, spending as much time with Pops as I could, and my understudy started filling in more often when Pops started the terminal decline. I decided to go on to our next few gigs and was in Cleveland when Terry called me, told me to come home, and it was about five hours before the show that night when I called Deni and told her. She came to my hotel room and we talked, and she told me to take my time, that they’d manage without me and I held her for the longest time. We’d been together as a group for more than two years by then, and I realized she was about the closest thing to family I’d have left – and I told her so.

“I never wanted you to be my brother, Aaron,” she told me. “All I know is we work well together, like I always imagined a husband would be, ya know?”

“That day, you remember?”

“Yeah. Love heroin. I’ll never forget. I’ve never loved anyone like I loved you,” she sighed, and then she was crying. “God, I don’t want you to go. Something’s going to happen to you back there. Something fuckin’ big’s coming, and I feel like it’s going to crush you, man.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him, Den. I’m scared, and with Jenn gone? I don’t know, man, I don’t know…”

“I’m here. Don’t you forget that.” She looked at me and we kissed, I mean like the last time we kissed, and I was full of these bizarre electric charges flickering on and off like lightning all over my skin, then she looked at me again. “I love you, and I will forever” she sighed, then we kissed again, and this time we were hovering beyond the abyss, ready to fall into bed, but she pulled back and ran from the room.

I got my bags together and made it out to the airport in time to catch a one-stop to LAX, and made it to the house a little after midnight. I went to Pop’s room and we sat and got caught up while Terry left to put on tea, but she came back in a few minutes later, her eyes full of grief. She turned on the TV and there were news reports of an airplane crash, a flight from Cleveland to Buffalo, and a hundred and fifteen people, including all members of the group Electric Karma, were feared dead.

I blinked, recoiled from the very idea Deni and all my mates were gone, that the sum total of our existence had been wiped from the slate in the blink of an eye, but the pictures on the screen told a very different story. A midair collision about a mile out over Lake Erie, and the 707 had burst into flames and fluttered down to the wavetops, then slipped beneath black water.

Pops died the next day.

+++++

Jennifer thought I died that night and she came undone. Razor blades this time, and she’d meant to take herself out, no doubt about it. By the time I called their house the next morning the damage was done, though I didn’t find out for a few more hours. When I talked to her father later that day he sounded relieved and furious, and I told him I’d be down as soon I could. He said he understood and we left it at that, and Pops slipped into a morphine induced coma later that afternoon. We didn’t say goodbye, but when I held his hand I could feel him respond to my words. When I told him he meant the world to me, and that I’d miss him most of all he squeezed my hand, and I could hear him talking to me. All the talks we’d had over the years were still right there, and Terry was with me, holding on to me, when he slipped away.

She was English, my Terry. Had had a good run in Hollywood after the war, made a half dozen romantic comedies with the likes of Cary Grant and, yes, Jimmy Stewart, so when Pops moved on it was a big deal in Hollywood circles, yet the death of my bandmates cast a long shadow over the whole affair. Everyone knew about Pops and me, how tight we were, yet Terry was the big surprise – to me. I’d never really appreciated how close they were, but one look at her and you knew it wasn’t an act. She stopped eating for a month, literally, and wasted away to nothing – and then I had to admit I really felt something for the woman. She wasn’t just Pop’s third wife: she, too, became the one last link I had to him, one I’d never even realized existed, and all of a sudden I was scared she might leave me too.

And let’s not forget Jennifer, lying, in restraints, in a psychiatric hospital tucked deep inside the hills above Laguna Beach. I started driving down to Laguna every other day, then every morning, and I spent hours with Jennifer then drove back up to Beverly Hills, back to Pop’s house, where I tried to pull Terry out of her funk.

About three weeks into this routine I decided to take Terry with me down to Laguna, to try to get Terry to see what the real contours of falling into depression looked like, and it worked. That day marked a big turnaround for all of us, because she reached out to Jenn and they connected.

Like a lot of people around that time, I’d recently seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to me that time felt a lot like one of the key passages in the movie. When Hal goes bonkers and cuts Frank adrift, and Dave goes after his tumbling body in the pod – helmet-less. I wasn’t sure if I felt more like Dave, or Frank, but I knew everything was tumbling out of control – yet I was the only one who could set things straight.

Like Pops had set me straight after my parents died, I knew it was my turn at the controls, and I didn’t want to let either Pops or my old man down. Hell, by this point I didn’t want to let Jennifer’s father down. Whatever was wrong with Jenn, I saw then that her old man was probably behind a lot of it – so I’d in effect sent her back into the snake pit.

Nope. Not again. When you tell someone that you love them, you don’t do that. It’s a simple proposition, really. Either you mean what you say or what you say is meaningless, and now I took that to heart.

I loved Jenn. Simple as that. And I loved Terry, too. Simple as that.

So, let me tell you a little more about Terry.

She met Pops when he was in his late sixties. They got married when she was thirty three. She was forty four now, and every bit the Hollywood starlet she had been just a few years ago, and in the aftermath of her decision to rejoin the living she decided she was either going to move back to London and take up work on the stage, or make another movie. Maybe a bunch of movies.

And she wanted to know how I felt about her moving back to London. Specifically, did I want to her remain in LA, remain a part of my life, or did I want her to move on.

Mind you, I had just turned twenty seven so I wasn’t exactly a babe in the woods, and I’d never once considered her my grandmother. She came into my life when I was sixteen, when she was considered one of the most desirable women in the world. Let’s just say I’d spent a few sleepless nights over her and leave it at that, and I think you’ll grasp the contours of my own little dilemma.

So, I told her ‘Hell no!’ I didn’t want her to move on. I told her she was an important part of my life with Pops, and that she would always be important to me. The problem I didn’t quite wrap my head around is she didn’t see it that way. She’d spend ten plus years married to a man who hadn’t been able to perform his marital duties for, well, a long time, and she was just entering her prime. The biggest part of the problem was the simplest, most elemental part, too. I still found her attractive, devastatingly so.

There was a part coming up, just being cast, where she’d get prime billing next to some very big names, and she’d gone to the audition dressed to kill. When she came back she was elated; she’d gotten the part and shooting began, in France, in three weeks. She wanted to celebrate and so we went down to The Bistro – where her landing the part was all the buzz. Everyone came by to congratulate her – and offer condolences – and everyone looked at me like ‘who the devil are you.’

Why, I’m her grandson – didn’t you know?

What followed was three of the most regretfully confusing weeks of my life, and I’ll spare you the details. Sex was not involved, thankfully – or regrettably, depending on your point of view – but the whole thing was an emotional hurricane that left me drained. And Jenn began to pick up on the vibe, too.

“Are you sleeping with her?” she asked me one morning after I’d just walked into her room.

“What? With who?”

“Terry.”

“Geez! No!”

And I guess the way the word ‘no’ came out implied an air of finality, because she never brought it up again. And, a few weeks after Terry left for Avignon, Jennifer moved in with me, into Pop’s house.

Because he’d left it to me. He’d left everything to me, a not insubstantial sum of money, too. Then Electric Karma’s lawyers told me that as I was the only surviving band member, and there was no one higher up on the food chain in their world, all our royalties were now mine. In perpetuity. In other words, I was filthy rich, and all I’d done was write a few songs and nearly shit my pants in stage-fright a couple of times.

Herb Alpert was, literally, my next door neighbor and I talked him into a tour of the recording studio he’d just finished in his house and I decided then and there I was going to do the same thing, and a few weeks later architects and contractors were finalizing plans while contractors swarmed, when Jenn decided we needed to buy a sailboat.

So we went down to the Newport Beach Boat Show and we looked at one yacht after another…Challengers and NorthStars and DownEasts were a few of the names that stood out, but in the end I put money down on a Swan 41, a new Sparkman & Stephens design that had not even been officially launched yet, and wouldn’t, as it turned out, for three more years – which left us without a boat for the foreseeable future.

But there was a new company just starting up in Newport, called Westsail, and they had a 32 at the show that really struck a chord with me – and I bought her, right then and there, and after the show Jenn and I sailed her down to Little Balboa Island, to the dock in front of her father’s house. Pretty soon we were driving down there almost every day, taking Soliloquy out for a sail. We started hopping over to Catalina, dropping our anchor off the casino and snorkeling for so long our skin started to look like mottled white prunes.

Sailing kept me away from the house, and the construction project, but when that work wrapped I went to work on another project. I had all our master tapes delivered to the house and I got to work re-mastering the original cuts, adding some keyboard tracks I’d always wanted, then I took them over to MCA for a listen. They reissued both our albums, and I put together a gratuitous “Best Of Retrospective” just for good measure and before you could say ‘Money in the bank’ I’d banked so much money it was obscene.

So, I had a house in Beverly Hills, at least one sailboat in Newport Beach, more than ten million in banks everywhere from California to the Cayman Islands and a seriously crazy girlfriend who had an affinity for razor blades – and boats.

And with all my work done in the recording studio – it took all of six weeks, too – I was now out of things to do.

Ah, Terry. What about her, you ask?

Well, she had more money than God before she married Pops so that was never an issue, and I was soon reading about a secret marriage to her co-star in this new film, so presto, problem solved.

Yet within a week I was bored out of my mind.

“What about forming a new group?” Jenn asked.

And all I could see was Deni in that hotel room, telling me that she loved me, and that she always would.

“You know…I don’t think so. I can record an album myself if I really want to. I can play all the instruments, do everything but sing, and if I get the urge I’ll get someone to lay down a vocal track and do the rest on my own.”

She frowned, shook her head. “That’s not the point. Working with musicians on a common goal, that’s what you need right now.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Okay. What do you think about sailing to Hawaii?”

“What? You and me?”

“Yup.”

“That sounds fuckin’ bogus, man!”

Keep in mind, in 1972 ‘bogus’ meant something similar to ‘awesome’ these days. ‘Bogus,’ by the way, replaced ‘bitchin’ in the California lexicon, and ‘bitchin’ was a close cousin of ‘far out’ and ‘groovy.’ We clear now, Dude?

I had a million questions, the first being ‘could we do the trip on Soliloquy?’

“Fuck, yes. She was made for this kind of trip.”

“Oh?” Keep in mind about all I knew concerning sailboats was that the pointy end was supposed to go forward. Next, consider that Soliloquy had two pointy ends, so I was already seriously confused.

“Yeah, we could hit Hawaii, then head south for Tahiti.”

“Tahiti?”

I’d heard of Tahiti, of course. Once. I think.

“Sure. What do you think? Wanna go for it?”

So, my suicidal girlfriend wanted to get me on a 32 foot long sailboat a thousand miles from the nearest land. To what end, I wondered?

“How long would it take to get to Hawaii?” I wanted to know.

“Depending on the wind, two to three weeks.”

“Weeks? Not months?”

“Yachts sailing in the Transpac Race do it in eight days. It’s not that big a deal.”

“Have you done it?”

“Twice.”

Of course she had.

“But this would be just you and me, no pressure, no finish lines. We could really get to know one another, I guess.”

“When?”

“Best time is June and July.”

“So…a month or two from now?”

“Yup.”

“Would you like to do this?”

“More than anything in the world.”

“Well, maybe we’d better get to work. My guess is Soliloquy isn’t geared up for this kind of thing.”

She looked at me and grinned. “I already have.”

“Ah.” Of course she had.

And so the worm turned.

+++++

I never considered myself a sailor. Never, as in ‘not once.’ I’d never been on a sailboat until the day my shrink invited me out on her husband’s J-boat, the day I met Jennifer, and yet I was hooked from that first sail onward. If you’ve ever looked at an eagle or a seagull and wondered what it’s like to bank free and easy on a breeze, well, sailing’s about as close as you’ll get in this life – and unless you happen to believe in reincarnation and hope to wind up as a bird in your next, that’s the end of that. Bottom line: after that day I began to consider myself a sailor – and I know that sounds ridiculous – until you consider sailing is a state of mind, not simply a reflection of one’s experience.

At that point sailing was, for me, heading out the Newport jetty around ten in the morning and dropping anchor off Avalon 5-6 hours later. Soliloquy was a heavily built, very sound little ship and weather was never a factor; in forty knots with six to ten foot seas she just powered through the channel with kind of a ‘ho-hum’ feel, like – you’ll need to throw some heavier shit my way to make me sweat. She imparted a confident feel in bad weather, something I came to appreciate later that summer, but something I was, generally speaking, clueless about those first few months sailing with Jenn.

No GPS back in the day, too. Navigation was old school, and I bought a Plath sextant, a German made beauty, and Jenn taught me to use it so we shared navigation duties. I’d always been strong in math, and I guess that’s what carried me through music into composition, so sight reduction tables and the spherical trigonometry involved in celestial navigation wasn’t a stretch. Still, the first time we motored from Avalon to Newport in a pea-soup fog – and nailed it – I was proud of Jenn for being such an accomplished navigator – and teacher.

Anyway, we stocked the boat with provisions, including everything we’d need to bake bread at sea, and a few other necessities, like a life raft and a shitload of rum – because sailors only drink rum, right? – and I went to my favorite guitar dealer in Hollywood and picked up an small backpacker’s guitar, an acoustic beauty made in Vermont, and so equipped we were good to go.

We left Newport on the first of June, 1972, and we sailed to Avalon and baked bread that evening, and when the sun came up the next morning we pulled in the anchor and stowed it aft, then, once we cleared the southeast end of Catalina, we set a course of 260 degrees and settled in for the duration. Call it twenty-five hundred miles at an average of 125 miles per day, and though we racked off 150 most days, we had a few under a hundred, too. The stove and oven were propane, most lighting came from oil lamps, and we had an icebox – not refrigeration – so we went about a week with things like fresh meat and milk then switched over to canned goods and Parmalat milk for the next two. And the thing is, I found I just didn’t care. We figured out how to make things we liked using the things we had on hand, and we made rice and homemade curries that were something else. And then you have to factor in the sunsets out there…a million miles from nowhere. Sitting in the cockpit with the aroma of freshly baked yeast bread coming out of the galley, while I played something new on the guitar and as the sky went from yellow to orange to purple…well…yeah, it was all kind of like magic.

One day the seas went flat, turned to an endless mirror, and the only ‘things’ we saw all that day were the fins of an occasional blue shark or United DC-8s overhead on their way to or from Honolulu, and I’d never felt so utterly at peace in all my life. We’d bought what we’d need to rig a cockpit awning so we did that day, if only to keep from being roasted alive under the sun, and I think we started in on each other by mid-morning, and kept at it through sunset. Like, literally, nonstop sex – for fifteen hours – and it was one of the most surreal days I’ve ever experienced. Pure sex, cut off from everything else – not-one-other-distraction. Just intent, focused physicality – one soul focused on another.

I didn’t know Jennifer, not really, not before those hours, and I’m not sure she knew herself all that well, either, but we never looked at one another the same way after that. We were reduced to pure soul out there, and not one false, pretentious emotion guided us. Soliloquy was hanging in that water, no wind stirred the sea and we’d drop a cedar bucket into the crystalline water and wash ourselves down from time to time, but other than that the day melted away – leaving pure love in it’s wake.

And that night the wind picked up, our speed too, then the wind really started blowing, the seas building and we sailed for three days under a double-reefed main and staysail, the steering handled by the Monitor wind-vane self-steering rig Jenn had installed by the factory. And still Soliloquy just powered through the seas, never once did we doubt her ability to carry us safely onward.

And a few windy days later the trip was over.

Jenn’s father had shown up a few days before our expected arrival and he’d secured a berth at Kewalo Basin, near the city center, and it turned out he was as excited as we were about the trip. The fact that it had turned out so peculiarly uneventful was icing on the cake…and because I think he had it fixed firmly in mind that the crossing would be something like making it to the summit of Everest he’d never considered making such a trip. Now he was on fire to do it, and was itching to make the trip back to California.

I wasn’t, however, not with him, and not on a 32 foot sailboat.

Yet Jennifer was. She thought it would be a good time for she and her father to mend some fences, and wanted me to come along. As referee, perhaps?

And again, I didn’t want to be a part of that whole thing, and I let her know it in no uncertain terms. So, she told me to fly back, that she and her father would bring Soliloquy home to Newport.

Fine, says I, and I exit, stage right, on one of those United DC-8s we’d watched arcing across the sky. The thing is, there’s no easy way back from Hawaii to Southern California. Wind and currents make it much more doable if you arc north towards British Columbia, and then ride the current south past the Golden Gate to LA. It’s a much longer trip, and it takes a lot longer – as long as 4-5 weeks. Another drawback? You have to go much farther north, well into colder, arctic influenced waters where both storms and fog are the routine, so the trip is tough. More like the Everest expedition Jenn’s father didn’t want to experience, as a matter of fact.

So, a few days later I packed a bag and went to the airport. By myself. I flew to LA and took a taxi home, and like that it was over. The trip, our sudden affinity for each other – over and done with, like the whole thing had been a dream. Or a nightmare. It was like this thing she had going on with her father was a toxic, manic depressive beast where she had to convince herself she had to put things right, and fixing that busted relationship was a much higher priority than her relationship with me.

Jerry Garcia wanted me to help out on an album so I flew up north a few days after I got back, and we worked in the studio for almost a month, and by the time I left I had it in my head to do a solo album. Those sunsets came back to me as I dreamed music, playing that little backpackers guitar while Jenn baked bread down below, that sun-baked idyll, the buckets of seawater washing away our sins. I spent two weeks down in my basement studio laying down the tracks for just one song, and when I finished I carried it over to MCA and everyone who listened to it said it was the best thing I’d ever done. Could I carry through, create an album out of the experience?

Hell yes, I said.

And when I got home there was a message on my machine, from Jenn, in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. She and her father had had their gigantic falling out and he’d left her there; could I call her at the marina? Please?

I called the number she left on the machine and some dockmaster ran down to Soliloquy to fetch her while my fingers drummed away on the kitchen counter, and when she finally got to the phone she was breathless and in tears.

The whole trip had been a nightmare, she sobbed.

Was I surprised? No. As in, Hell No.

And when would she learn? How many more times would she let that mean-spirited asshole tear her apart. How many times would she run home and start the whole process all over again? What was I missing?

“What do you want, Jenn?”

“Could you fly up, help me bring Soliloquy back to LA?”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. What happens next?”

“We get on with our life. Together.”

“Really? Until the next time you need to run home to Daddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe you two were meant for each other. Maybe I’m just getting in the way, ya know?”

“Aaron…no. It’s not that way and you know it.”

“All I know is what I see.”

“Is that what you see?”

“Yes.”

She hung up on me.

The dockmaster called me at six the next morning. Jenn, it turned out, had found some razor blades.

+++++

I was up there by late morning, and her psychiatrists at the hospital were convinced this attempt had been a classic ‘cry for help,’ that her cuts hadn’t been deep enough to damage the tendons. But there was another complicating factor.

Yup. Pregnant. Timing worked out about right, too. Our sunbaked idyll had been more than productive musically. And now she wanted to abort the fetus. There was no point, she’d told her docs. She’d destroyed all her chances for happiness, just like she always did, so why bring a kid into that world? Why not just kill everything about us? Take care of business once and for all time.

Maybe I was beyond caring that day, but it was beginning to feel like she was using suicide as a weapon to hurt everyone around her. Me, certainly, but her mother and father, too, and now she was going to carry that to the next logical step, in her world, anyway. Kill the truly blameless, and I was stunned. Too stunned for words.

When I went in to see her I told her as much, too, and that scene devolved into a big fight. Kill that kid, I said, and you’ll never see me again. Simple as that. I left the hospital and went down to the marina, listed the sailboat with a broker and flew back to LA that evening.

Yup. Cold. Heartless. And tired of going round and round on her psychotic merry-go-round.

Her docs called me two days later and said she’d opted to have the abortion. It was done, they’d tried to stop her but she left and had it done elsewhere.

And so was I. Done, I mean.

With her, anyway.

Not with sailing, as it turned out. Not by a long shot.

There were a couple of guys down in Costa Mesa working on a new 38 footer, and I drove down to see them, and the boat they were working on. They called it the Alajuela, named after a city in Costa Rica, and work was well underway on their second hull when I showed up on their doorstep. By the time I left later that afternoon I’d bought the next available boat, and would have her in a little less than a year, so I went home and retreated to the studio.

Jenn, of course, started calling as soon as she got back to Newport.

I, of course, changed my number.

She started coming up to the house.

I asked her to leave, and never return. After the third return I called my lawyer, had her serve Jenn with a restraining order – and out came the razor blades. I heard that anecdotally, of course. Her father didn’t call me. He called my lawyer, who told me. Another near miss, of course, but this time they put her away for a couple of years and in the end I didn’t see her for almost ten years.

She made her way into my music, however. The love I felt that day for her was as real as it ever was, and that was hard to reconcile. As hard as it was to reconcile the kid she so carelessly killed.

+++++

I wrapped up the album about a month before Troubadour launched, and the studio had released Idyll as a single a few months before. Well received, too, but not like Electric Karma’s albums, so when the new album shot up the charts two weeks after release I was as surprised as I was happy.

But I wasn’t into it anymore. I had moved on, was already planning for my life with Troubadour. Everything about her was planned for one thing, and one thing only. I was going to take her around the world, and I’d probably be going solo, too.

Refrigeration was built in, roller furling headsails too. A more robust self-steering vane was a must, and light air sails a must, too. I wanted teak decks again, and they relented, laid them for me, and by the time Troubadour hit Newport Harbor she was mine, purpose built and ready to roll. I moved her to a friend’s slip at the Balboa Bay Club and fitted her out, packed her to the gills – in less than a week, then I went home for a few days – to say goodbye.

I decided to rent Pop’s house to a friend of mine, a musician, and in the end left the house in the care of my lawyer. I drove down to Newport, handed my car over to the guys at the boatyard and in the middle of a foggy March night I cast off her lines and slipped out the jetty, pointed her bow to the southwest – bound for the Marquesas.

Part II

The first morning out, sitting on a windless sea maybe thirty miles north of La Jolla, I watched the stars 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, came from a shortwave radio. Only then did I realize I’d have to stop in San Diego to fix these nagging omissions, or turn around and return to Newport – something I really did not 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 just in front of 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’d liked to chide him about Watergate and all that told us about modern Republicans. He’d counter with endless jibes about Democrats being socialists, or 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 realize, or even 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 her father 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. I’ve thought about them over the years and saw in their struggle nothing less than the struggle between generations that flared in the 60s. The results were as debilitating for all of us.

About halfway through that first night out of Newport Beach 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, and 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. Yet 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 really 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. Maybe that was ego speaking, but isn’t all artistic creation an act of ego?

The wind fell away 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, because nature, true nature, has always been all about the most basic kind of survival. Find food and keep from being killed in the process, live long enough to procreate then get out of the way as the next generation comes along.

That seal was hiding in the kelp because something bigger than it 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 Lake Erie.

It’s funny, the things that run through your mind in the last minutes of darkness, just before the sun rises, even 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 shoreside existence. When you sail along the elemental periphery you really feel that ‘apartness.’ You feel it in your bones, like you’ve set yourself adrift and whatever purpose exists may or may not be revealed to you. In the end, you’re just along for the ride.

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 harbor. 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 a few hundred yards away.

“So, what could I get you to drink?” my cheery 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.

“Pardon?”

“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’s mast jutting up across the way, “the one with the blue hull.”

Troubadour?” she asked. “I was looking at her earlier. She looks sweet.”

“Oh?”

“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.

“Nuku Hiva.”

“When you leavin’?”

“In the morning.”

“Want some company?” she joked.

“Have a passport?” I joked right back at her.

“Yes.” A little more serious this time. A little more eye contact.

“Maybe you ought to drop by after you get off tonight.” I watched her reaction then.

“Okay,” she said, parrying my thrust.

Surreal? Yes, I know.

Stupid? Probably.

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 of the world. 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 Beach 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 once mattered to her after 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 she’d decided to ‘go back to school’ to learn other things. 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. Travel. See the world. Learn. And love.

And maybe there was something mercenary in our coming together. She’d planted her feet in a place and at 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’d simply put herself in a position to get there. Maybe she would have been like an autumn leaf, blowing any way the wind blows – but for whatever reason she found her way – to me.

Because I’d forgotten to pack a few books. Because I couldn’t listen to music on my boat.

Sometimes life turns on the silliest, most inconsequential things. Sometimes love comes to you, and you’re damned if you turn away.

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 following 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 Whites we decided against swimming ashore. We baked out first loaves of bread together, learned how to move around the boat together, and we started listening to our hearts – with our minds. Not as simple as it sounds, too.

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, but as I’d stowed dozens of bottles of water to go with what Troubadour carried in her tanks we opted for the latter. So, setting a course of 210 degrees, we stared ahead at 3000 miles of open water – and what do you suppose happened?

I’d have, at one point, called it wedded bliss, but for the time being I called it Jennifer Clemens.

Okay?

+++++

We’d set the wind vane and let it steer for hours on end, and the most joyous moments came when dolphins joined us 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, waiting. And every now and then one would spring up, let her take a touch on the fly, and those close encounters seemed to energize our little universe. She’d come back to the cockpit with this look in her eyes 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 the remnants hit us, and hit us hard. It was my first real storm at sea without Jenn, yet Troubadour was built, like the Westsail, to handle these conditions – and she did, with ease. After the storm’s passage we both felt a surge of confidence, yet we knew it hadn’t been a real hurricane. Even so, we felt like we were becoming a team, that we worked well together.

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 first storm, like she had become a part of me. 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.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Okay.”

“Does that mean what I hope it means?”

“Yes.”

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 comfort after that – knowing she had my back, and that I had her’s, too. Yes, that’s odd, but yes, that’s called 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. Does that seem strange – after Jenn and her razor blades?

When Jennie first 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 on 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 and 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,” we sighed. We had, too.

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 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-outs 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.

Yeah. Surreal.

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 also 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 was 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 weeks 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 in the village 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 our 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 this 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 anything and 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 or two. 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, too.

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 just 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 seriously deranged sense of humor. He was also a physician, a skilled general surgeon who also 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, someone said.

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, ready 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, by the way, 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 precise. 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 as scary as it was misleading. 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? Misleading? Because she had turned her back on all that, yet that’s who she was.

Michelle also liked to paint. Watercolors. Nothing but, and usually simple flowers. She taught me her techniques, and I was hooked. We spent 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.

So, time to meet my new sisters, Niki and Taylor. Both into music, seriously. Both teaching music. Both in love with the idea of me, the rock star, even before they met me. Both went nuts after spending a few hours with me 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 had I 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, all of us, 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 – maybe more. It was nonstop – blow through 36 exposures then dash below to rewind and reload – and as I’d never seen this part of the island 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, but by golly now I sure 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 it 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 best sleigh ride possible, not a care in the world and everything was just as easy as sliding along a country road in the snow.

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 in – 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 speaking 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?

“Yes.”

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 I 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 didn’t 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 – what about 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 flat. 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, not to mention 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, in short, 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 some justification to call her family, then where’s the line between being taken advantage of and doing one’s duty?

Funny thing, that. I’d never talked to Jennie about Jenn. Jenn and her razor blades, but 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, I think.

Mainly, I reckon, 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 countered, I considered that child ‘ours,’ not just ‘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 someone into having a 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 of 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. Everything is endless circles, when you get right down to it. Everyone is scared shitless of being abandoned.

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 my 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.

Abandonment? Guilt? Did I have issues?

Phew!

I was running in circles, too. 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. But what life was I talking about? The life my parents wanted. Oh yeah, those parents. The parents I never knew. Had I been running ever since? And what about them? – had they been running, too? Away from me? Away from their responsibilities to me? Just how far back did these circles go?

So…what’s out there on the other side of the Big Bang? What’s on the other side of all 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?

Silly, huh?

Like running in the night is silly, hiding from the answers right in front of your face. Running in circles. Running into endless answers in search of all their questions.

+++++

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 that 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?”

“About Jenn? No, not really.”

“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 by the pool 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 even try to 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 too. “Bring her out here?”

“That would be ideal, but my lawyer, 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 besides, you have a house here, remember?”

“I forgot to mention that.”

“Well, don’t.”

“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.”

“Me too.”

“So, how’s LA?”

“The same, only worse.”

“Oh?”

“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.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. 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 my 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 that morning off La Jolla. All those things I imagined circling in the night. Kill or be killed. Isn’t that what I told myself that night?

And then I realized I didn’t even know my daughter’s name.

Part III

After I talked to Shelly, my lawyer, two days later, I went to LAX – on her advice – and returned to Moorea, and to Jennifer. I returned after three more intense encounters with Terry, who I now knew I could not, and would not ever be able to resist. Fact of life. My big flaw. She was bourbon to an alcoholic. It wasn’t incest, it was worse. She was a violation of every known law of nature. I watched men stare at her when she entered a room – and I understood. I could not understand why she had chosen me. And let me be clear right here: I did not want to understand. I wanted to get as far away from her as I could, and stay there. I did not want to see her again, because I knew I’d want her again. Because I knew I would not be able to resist her again. I would not, because I could not.

And yet when I fell into Jennifer’s arms it was the most comforting wave of emotion I’d ever felt, a homecoming so overpowering it left me breathless. She wanted me – bad – she said, and we crawled up on the forward berth – and I couldn’t get it up. I’d been drained by Terry and didn’t have anything left, so Jennie put it down to jet-lag. I’d be better tomorrow, she said, but I wasn’t. I was overcome – with all consuming guilt. I’d violated a sacred trust and I wondered, could an agnostic wandering Jew go to a Catholic church and pretend to be gentile long enough to make it through the confessional? Could I say a dozen ‘Hail Mary’s’ with a straight face – and not have a vengeful God send me straight to Hell?

Then I was worrying about Tracy, my daughter. And I still couldn’t get it up.

We’ll get over it, Jennie said, but now I wasn’t so sure. When I closed my eyes at night I saw Terry on that bed, her legs on my shoulders, her stockinged legs resting beside my face as I plowed her fertile valley. I could feel her all encasing warmth, my searing orgasm, the smoothness of her cool legs on my face when I went between her thighs. So…if I couldn’t have her now, was I simply going to obsess about her. She was going to take over my life – in absentia.

“Why don’t we head south, for New Zealand,” Jennie said a few days later.

“What? I thought they…”

“My replacement from France arrives Friday.”

“You ready to move on?”

“I think so. We can come back here if Mom and Dad decide to return next summer, maybe for a week or two, but I’ve been thinking about Auckland. Maybe go to school for a semester?”

“Okay. Let’s go over to Papeete and get the bottom painted, pick up a few spares. We can go from there.”

“Okay. When can we leave?”

“I don’t know? Tomorrow too soon?”

“No. The sooner the better,” she said, and I knew then. Knew she could feel Terry in this place. Terry all over me. Terry’s skin on my face, on my breath…

We set sail at sun-up; it was only a short hop, really. Just 15 miles, nothing like the 2600 miles jump to New Zealand’s North Island that lay ahead, and we got there late morning, got Troubadour checked in at the yard and went out to find a hotel. We got a room in one of the old places along the waterfront, hard by the Parc Bougainville, and when we got to our room it was a little difficult to feel where Paris ended and Tahiti began. I called the yard, told them where we were, and they told me it would be two days at least before they could start on Troubadour. No problem, I said as I looked at Jennie.

She wanted to go out, by herself she said, and she took off, said she’d be back in a couple of hours. I showered, stood under the water for what felt like days, called room service and had them bring me some lunch. I looked at my watch, called the Beverly Hills Hotel then hung up the phone and called Shelly, my lawyer.

“We have a hearing on the 23rd,” she told me.

“Next week?”

“Yeah. You’ll need to be here. Oh, the house is vacant now. Want me to get it cleaned up so you can stay there?”

“Yeah, might as well.”

“What about Terry? Move her in?”

“We’ll see. Maybe after I leave.”

“Oh?”

“I think she likes the hotel. I’ll check with her and see what she wants to do.”

“Oh. Well, have her call me if she needs the key.”

“Yeah. Well, I’ll try to get in on the 21st or so,” I said, and I gave her my number at the hotel then rang off. And made the call to the hotel again, asked for her bungalow.

“Hello?”

“Terry, it’s me.”

“Goodness. Missing me already?”

“I’ve got to return on the 21st for a hearing, and Shelly told me the house is vacant now. You want to move in for now?”

“Are you planning to stay there when you come up?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to be alone?”

I took a deep breath. “No,” I said.

“Then you won’t be.”

“Alright.”

“If Jennie decides to come let me know.”

“I will.”

“Aaron?”

“Yes.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

And there it was. The first time she’d ever said that to me. The first time I’d ever said anything like that, to her. No hesitation. No duplicity. It’s what I felt, and I knew it was wrong. And how could I love Jennie at the same time?

I called Air France, made my reservation to fly back to LA, and was just wrapping up the call when Jennie came back to the room. She saw me on the phone and frowned, and when I told her about the hearing she nodded her head.

“Maybe I should go back to Wisconsin for a while,” she sighed. “Could you get me on the same flight?”

I called Air France again, made the reservation. One way, open return – for now – I told the agent, and Jennie walked over to the window and looked down at the waterfront.

“I like this city,” she sighed when I hung up the phone.

I joined her, stood beside her and we looked out to Moorea across the channel.

“How long will you need to be in LA?”

“I’m figuring on a week.”

“Anything I need to know?”

“No. Not really.”

“Okay.”

“What did you find out there?”

“Oh, just some girl stuff.”

“Girl stuff?”

“Yeah. I’ll show you later. You hungry?”

“I ordered some stuff from room service.”

“Stuff?”

“Guy stuff. Real food.”

She laughed. “I didn’t know they make hamburgers out here? Snails, yes, but hamburgers?”

Knock on the door, waiter rolled in a cart and after I tipped him he split. Two onion soups, escargot, broiled sea bass and huge prawns – for two.

“Perfect timing,” she added.

“I like to think I take care of you, kid.”

“You do, you know.”

“Because I love you,” I said.

“I know – I love you too. Maybe even more than you know.”

We ate in silence, then she went and took a shower. I heard her taking stuff out of her shopping bags, and she was taking her time getting dressed, then:

“Could you pull the drapes, turn out the lights?”

“Sure.”

She came out a minute later – dressed to the nines. Lingerie, heels, everything in white, and she walked over to me.

“Do you like me like this?”

I nodded my head.

“Does she…” she began, but she stopped herself, looked down at me. “Show me,” she said as she lay on the bed.

“You really are lovely,” I said during my second orgasm.

We didn’t leave the room for five days, then we held hands across the Pacific, we cried when she left on the flight to Milwaukee. I drove to the house on Foothill Road and Terry was there waiting for me. Dressed in blacks and grays, the sexiest woman in the world – all mine. No questions asked. I had not the slightest problem getting up. I had not the least hesitation in my voice when I told her that I loved her. Because I did.

I was between her thighs again, my face against her warmth, then I felt her shuddering, clutching my head with fierce fingers, and as she came down I moved up and entered her. I didn’t last long; I never did when she had her legs up on my shoulders, when I felt her heels on the side of my face. When I came down I looked at her, my perfect lover, and I started to cry.

She looked up at me and smiled.

“Don’t worry about all this, Aaron,” she said as she pulled me down. She kissed me, held me close. “I’ll just be here for you when you need me,” she whispered. “I don’t want anything more. Just to know that you still love me is all I’ll ever need. Okay? You don’t have to choose. I’ll just be here for you, always. Whenever you need me.”

And I was growing inside her warmth again, all movement involuntary now. Holding her face to mine we kissed as I fell into her movement again, and I pulled back a little, looked into her eyes as I came again. What had simply been sex before grew into something fierce and eternal in the next few minutes, yet I was more confused than ever. What could come of this, I wondered, but infinite heartbreak.

+++++

She came with me to the hearing.

I think because Shelly knew the judge was a big fan. Jennifer’s father was there, of course, and he seemed to read the expression on the judge’s face, knew he’d lost, and in the end I won temporary guardianship pending a final review once Jenn was out of the woods and able to stand on her own two feet. It was decided that I’d pick Tracy up in two months, and that I’d return to LA to pick her up after I arrived in New Zealand.

When we left Jenn’s father looked at me like I was the anti-Christ. He did, I think, because we only called one witness, one of Jennifer’s psychiatrists. She all but blamed Jennifer’s condition on her father, and pointed to him, called his behavior monstrous. The judge noted that her father perjured himself when he declared in court he’d made a good faith effort to notify me, and that he was lucky she wasn’t sending him to jail.

Terry, for her part, batted goo-goo eyes at the good judge, which I think made his day. Then we all went down to Newport so I could meet my daughter. It was a supervised visit at his lawyer’s office, and I couldn’t tell who she looked like. Not me, not Jenn, not either of her parents, then Terry spoke up: “She looks just like your mother, Aaron.”

And I cried. I held my daughter and cried at unseen memory.

Barely a year old, she held her little hand out and touched my face, my tears, and I didn’t want to let go of her. But I did, of course, then Terry and I drove back to the house on Foothill Road.

“You’d better call Jennie,” she said.

“Don’t you need to call the studio?”

“Nope. I’m not expected til the day after tomorrow, five in the morning. I’m going to go take a shower,” she said, smiling.

I called Jennie.

“Well, it looks like we’re going to be parents,” I said.

“What?”

“It’s temporary, but she’s ours.”

“Oh-dear-God. I can’t believe it!”

“Until Jenn is out on her own, anyway. Just like you said. When we get to Auckland, we can come up and get her.”

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“Yes, I am. For us all, and maybe for Tracy most of all. How’re your parents?”

“Good. Terry?”

“Same as ever. When do you want to return?”

“I, uh, well, do you want me to come back with you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Are you sure?”

“Jennie? What’s this about?”

“If you want me, tell me when to be at the airport,” she said, and then she hung up the phone.

I went and sat in Pop’s chair, thought about Tracy and what my mother might have looked like as a child, then I heard Terry in the bedroom and I knew she was waiting for me. I walked in and looked at her on the bed, all her lingerie and shoes a light gray, and she looked like pure sexuality unleashed. I showered, found her on the bed rubbing herself and she was wet when I got to her.

The whole dressing up thing mystified me for a while, then I began to look at it as wrapping oneself up as a present. But no, I found I liked all that stuff to remain on, so I began to see it as patterning. Like as kids, people of my generation were programmed to see lingerie and heels and think sex, so seeing it now was like programming a response. And when I saw Terry dressed like this I was almost overcome with instant lust; when I slipped inside I did so with her legs, often her shoes, on my face. Feeling these things kicked off images in my mind, propelled my response, and as I entered her, as her slippery warmth enveloped me I could smell the leather of her shoes, feel her silky nylons on my cheeks, and everything was like this surreal feedback loop. She didn’t have to tell me what these thing meant, she knew what they did to me. I assumed she knew what they did to all men, but I didn’t really care by then. I was inside her and the feeling was pure magic. I’d slide in quickly then pull back slowly, fast–slow over and over, then I’d pull out and just run myself over her clit then enter her again. Then she pushed me over and mounted my face, ground her clit onto my tongue until the tremors began, then her release was overwhelming. I flipped her over and entered her again, driving into her until I came…then it was flow down for a while until I was ready to go again. I could usually go for two, and with a break for dinner, take her a third time in one day, and she seemed to want as much as I could give her.

And I wondered if that’s what she meant. When she said she’d always be there for me. Was she programming me to need her? Making me accept her as a main part of my life? If so, it was working. And well, too.

Then she surprised me again.

“We’re getting to close, Aaron. I’m not sure I can keep doing this and not have you with me all the time. I’m addicted to you now, can’t think of anything else. I want you so much when I’m away from you it’s beginning to affect my work, and I don’t know what to do anymore…”

“Terry? Can I ask you something?”

“Oh, Aaron…anything, anytime…”

“What do you want? I mean, deep down, what would make you happiest?”

She rolled and looked at me. “In the end, I’d like you to love me no matter what, but I think I’d like you to marry Jennie, try to make a home for that little girl, the three of you. I’d like you to come see me every now and then, remind me how much we mean to each other. Maybe you and I could get married, but the cost would be enormous, wouldn’t it? But we could keep things just the way they are now and no one would be the wiser. I’d just go on loving you and, I assume, you’d go on loving me too. When you need me, I’d be there. Always. No questions asked. Just…always.”

“Okay. I accept you on those terms. Forever. I can’t not love you. And I can’t stop needing you. I can’t, Terry. I mean that. I don’t know if you’ve tried to make me need you the way I do, or whether time conspired to do this to us, but I’d rather die than know I’d never be with you again…”

She folded herself into me then, held me so tight for so long I thought we’d fuse, but a while later I felt that stirring and so did she. She went down on me, brought me back to life again and she straddled me for what felt like hours, reaching down, rubbing herself as she rocked back and forth until she came again and again, then she slipped down between my legs and finished me with her mouth. I picked her after and carried her to the shower and we bathed one another, then dressed and went out to dinner.

When we came back after dinner I called Air France, then called Jennie. “Be at the airport at 10:30 tomorrow morning. American to LAX, change to Air France.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

“I love you.”

“I love you.”

The reality is more difficult, of course. Loving two women. I mean really, really loving them. Caring for each as you would one. Terry drove me out to LAX the next afternoon and she told me not to say goodbye. “Never, ever, do I want to hear those words from you,” she told me. “All I want to hear from you is that you want me, that you need me. You never have to tell me that you love me because I know you do, with all my heart I know you do.”

I nodded, looked her in the eye. “And you love me?”

“With all my heart. And I’ll always be here for you. Nothing will ever change that.”

I kissed her once, gently, then got out of the car and walked into the terminal. I watched Jennie’s plane land and met her at the gate, then we walked over to International Departures, waited to board the jet for Papeete. I held her hand all the way through the terminal, and she said not one word to me until we were seated in the lounge, waiting for our flight to be called.

“You feel alright about what happened.”

“Yes. I think everything’s going to work out well enough.”

“You and me? You think we’re going to work out?”

“I do. Yes.”

“And Terry?”

“I think she’s where she wants to be now, doing what she wants, anyway.”

“I see,” she said – looking out the window, expecting to fly.

+++++

Troubadour was in the water, ready to load fresh provisions onboard when we got back to the yard, and we spent a day getting things loaded. We got a hundred pounds of ice in the box, then settled in for the night, had some wine and watched the sun set, then we were out light a light. The weather forecast looked grim when we checked the next morning, so we went back to the hotel to sit it out, and Jennie pulled out her lingerie our second night there – and I plowed her fields, and after that everything got back to normal, or close to it, anyway.

She talked more, we kidded around and went shopping. I bought her a ring, one to wear on her left hand, and she said it didn’t mean anything unless I did too, so she picked out a plain band and slipped it on my finger. That really seemed to calm her down and after that we slipped into our old groove. And you see, the thing is I’d taken Terry at her word. I stopped worrying about it, her, and let it slip into the background – and I focused on Jennie, on making her happy.

We took off two day later and in the aftermath of the storm we had solid wind all the way to Auckland, an all too brief 16 day voyage, but with unsettled seas all the way it wasn’t exactly easy, or pleasant.

The plan was to haul the boat for winter, replace some rigging and all the sails (yes, they wear out too, and fast in the tropics), so we’d rent a house while Jennie worked on upping her nursing qualifications. I decided to take that class on diesel mechanics then, too, and we planned to start after our upcoming trip to pick up Tracy in LA. So, first things first, I called Shelly, asked if everything was still a ‘Go,’ and it was. I got tickets for the two of us headed north, and three coming back. I let Terry know the situation and she told me she was off to Morocco during that time for a shoot, and she told me she was sorry she’d miss me. Okay. Sure. I made a shopping list for boat supplies and we took off on the anointed day.

It’s a long flight, and the Air New Zealand DC-8 stopped in Papeete for fuel – which felt kind of silly. The long haul was next, and after we rolled into the house – well past midnight – we dropped into the sack and slept for days. Well, it felt like days. After we ran errands, boat stuff for the most part, we crashed again so we could wake up early to meet Shelly down in Newport the next morning.

I half expected Jenn to be there, but no, that was not to be. Her father was a no-show, too. He sent Tracy with a sheriff’s deputy, I think to upset her more than any other reason, but it was a vintage choice even for that asshole. Tracy got to the lawyer’s office, upset, and we spent a while calming her down before heading back to the house. We took her swimming that afternoon, took her Disneyland the next day, then for a really long airplane ride the day after that.

And never a word from or about Mommy.

+++++

New Zealand was very quiet and most civilized in the 70s, and an ideal place to raise kids. Jennie decided to get full nursing certification after spending a month in school there; she opted to go for full citizenship a few months later. I opted to remain a US citizen, yet the fact that I had some money and that Jennie and I were married gave her the opening she needed. I decided to get Tracy in the queue for citizenship too, just in case, and so she started school there two years later. Well, kindergarten, but you know what I mean, and by that point Jennie considered herself Tracy’s Mum. More important still, Tracy started calling Jennie ‘Mommy,’

In order to maintain US citizenship I had to return home periodically, roughly twice a year, and of course Terry always happened to be there. On my first trip home I upgraded the recording studio in the basement and started working on my next album and, as Jennie’s sister Niki had a helluva a voice I asked her to come down and work on a few songs with me. I moved into the pool house for the duration of her stay and Terry behaved herself, and after three months hard work I sent the masters over to MCA and sure enough, they liked ‘em. Serendipity released in ’76 and happily it went gold by summer’s end, and the title song included Niki’s voice – and almost overnight she became a minor sensation. She’d penned several songs and we arranged them, I played keyboards on all of them and had some friends help with the other instruments and MCA loved her album, too. It went platinum in a month and all of a sudden she was not only famous, she was rich as snot. She took off for Wisconsin after the master tapes went to Burbank, leaving me alone with Terry for the first time in six weeks. We tore into each other and only came up for air after a week, just before my scheduled return flight came up.

And still, no word of Jenn.

Jennie and Tracy met me at the airport – in Papeete – as it was time for Warren and Michelle’s annual visit to Moorea. Tracy and Michelle went on walks looking at flowers while Jennie and her father worked at the clinic, and soon enough Tracy was working at an easel with Michelle, painting flowers.

I spent my days working on my biggest canvas yet, an eight foot tall by twenty four foot wide panorama of, you guessed it, a misty mountain in the fog. Framed by windblown trees and a rolling surf in the distance, however. Then I got word MCA wanted me in LA for a concert in the Amphitheater, so I called Shelly – in the middle of the night my time – to get the lo-down.

“A bunch of people want to do an Electric Karma tribute concert, Aaron. They want you there, and they want Niki to take Deni’s place. She’s asked me to represent her, by the way. It would mean the big time for her.”

“What? A concert at the Amphitheater?”

“No…haven’t you heard? They’re talking the Coliseum. A hundred and twenty thousand people. Some big names have signed on already.”

“What would Niki take home?”

“Maybe a half million, maybe a little more.”

I whistled. “Okay. When?”

“Does that mean you’ll do it?”

“Shelly…when?”

“October. You have three months to get ready.”

“What’s my take?”

She told me and I whistled again.

“Aaron, you can’t turn this down. It’s the chance of a lifetime for Niki, and it’ll keep you in the spotlight for a whole new generation of listeners…you’ll be set for life. So, Tracy will be set for life.”

“Okay, tell ‘em I’m in. You take point for now, start setting up rehearsals, probably late August, early September. See if MCA is interested in cutting an album of the concert, and ask Dean if he’ll do the stage. You do good and you can have twenty percent of my cut, on both the concert and the album, including my residuals. Got that?”

She was silent for a minute. “You mean it?”

“Shelly, my life would be shit without you. Make this work, get Niki on the fast track. Yeah, I mean it.”

“Aaron…I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, Shelly? This is the best way I can thank you for everything you’ve done. But, thank you.”

“Yeah,” she said, and I could hear her voice crack a little. “Could I ask you a personal question?”

“Sure.”

“What’s going on with you and Terry? Is there anything that could blowback on you?”

“Maybe.”

“If it happens, am I authorized to do damage control?”

“Absolutely. Write that into our contract.”

“Okay.”

“Anything in the wind?”

“No, nothing. Just a gut feeling.”

“Well, if something crops up, make it go away.”

“Will do. Should I call, leave messages at that clinic?”

“For now. I’ll see about getting some kind of phone at the house.”

“Okay. Bye.”

“Yeah, bye.”

When I turned around Jennie was coming out of the OR, her dad right behind, and they were both dripping in sweat. She saw me on the phone and frowned as she came over, and Warren came up too.

“What’s up?” she asked. “You look jazzed.”

“You better sit down, both of you.”

They sat; Warren looked concerned. I told them about the concert, and about the deals I was trying to get Niki. “It’d mean a half million in the bank, on top of what she’s made on the album already, but it would put her in the spotlight. She’ll be big. Bigger than big, would be my guess. She took my advice, signed with Shelly, my lawyer.”

Warren’s hands were shaking. “My girl…will make more in one night than I do in ten years?”

“Yup.”

“Holy smokes.”

“Yup.”

“You’re doing all this for her – why?”

I looked at him, then at Jennie. “You’re my family, all I’ve got left in this life. Niki is too. I’m doing what I can for my family. Simple as that.”

I looked at Jennie. “Rehearsals in LA, end of August, concert is on Halloween, in the LA Coliseum. I think we should all be there. All of us.”

“Okay,” she said, looking me in the eye, “we will be.” I could tell my hands were shaking too, and she looked at them, then up at me. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. Hyped, I guess, is the word.”

“Why don’t you go up to LA now. Get started. I can see it in your eyes…that’s what you want to do.”

I nodded my head. “I know. I want to be here with you guys, though.”

“So stay, head back with Mom and Dad.”

“Yeah. We’ll see. I need to finish my painting, spend some time with Tracy. Maybe a little with my wife, too.”

She came to me and we hugged, and Warren stepped outside, lit up a Camel and coughed. Then we kissed.

“You should know,” she whispered. “I’m pregnant.”

I blinked, then my eyes went wide. “Holy smokes!” I managed to say – before she kissed me.

+++++

Different people bring out different things in me.

I thought about that all the way up to LA. When I was with Jennie I painted. I painted because I became interested in the visible world, the visual world. When I was with Terry I fell into my music. I could think music because she had been a part of my life since my teens, when music became important to me. When I was around Jennie the music almost stopped. When I was even thinking about Terry music poured in from every direction, but when I was around her music grew into a tidal wave.

I’d written all of Electric Karma’s music, Deni the lyrics, so that music would always be a part of me, yet when I put together the first solo album all that vibe slipped away. There was nothing about Karma I wanted to incorporate. But that was then and this was now. Now, sitting on that 747 all I could think about was Deni and the music we’d made together. And flying home to Terry was opening the floodgates of memory. By the time we landed I had written three new Karma songs. With Niki on vocals, no one would be able to tell this wasn’t Electric Karma – so why not cut a new Karma album? Get my old buds from San Francisco to cover guitar and bass and drums and the sound would be as authentic as it had been eight years ago…

Warren and Michelle regarded me as some kind of sorcerer all during that flight, but when I told them what I was thinking they kind of sat back and watched – in awe, I think. I asked them to have Niki call me as soon as they got home, then we said our goodbyes. I found the baggage claim had been moved – again – and it took me a while to find my bag – then Terry – but she was where she said she’d be. She drove straight home and ran for the shower, and I ran down to the studio and put my notes on my keyboard, then ran back up and joined her.

“Do you have anything going on the next three weeks?” I asked.

“No. Why?”

“You may not leave my side for the next three weeks, not once, not at all.”

“You’re on fire, aren’t you? I haven’t seen you like this in years.”

“I finally put two and two together, Terry. I can’t write good music unless you’re by my side. They stuff I’ve churned out when you’re not near me is garbage. Ever since Lucy-Goosey, when you’re with me it all comes together. You are the music in my life, my love. Without you I’m a hollow shell.”

She looked at me as if I’d slugged her in the gut, then she came to me, put her arms around me and I felt her crying on my chest – then I lifted her face to mine and we kissed.

“You called me…my love? Do you realize…?”

I nodded my head. “Of course I do, because I feel that now, as surely as I ever have. You are so much a part of me it’s insane. It’s surreal. I can’t even think music without you…”

“Aaron? Are you okay?”

“No, Terry, I am not okay. I am on fire. I am on fire because you have set me on fire. You’ve set me on fire ever since I’ve been interested in writing music. I doubt that I’ve ever written anything that wasn’t for you. Do you know the first piece of music I ever wrote was named after you. A little piano concerto. For you.”

“I didn’t know…”

“I think I always wanted to impress you, to be worthy of you.”

“Worthy – of me?”

“Yes, you. The most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Aaron…you can stop now.”

“No…I can’t. I’ve got at least ten songs to write, and you’ll need to stay right by my side. All the time. Understand?”

“Alright.”

I picked her up and carried her out of the shower, then I dried her off, every inch of her.

“What color would you like me to wear for you tonight?” she asked.

“Nasty.”

She smiled. “I hoped you’d say that.”

“I know. You have for a long time, haven’t you?”

She smiled, nodded and left the bathroom. “Give me a minute, would you?”

I went to the kitchen, fixed a Perrier and looked out the window at lemon trees blossoming in a breeze, and I could even smell them inside that moment, then I walked back to the bedroom. The lights were off, only a few candles blazed on a corner table, but Terry was there. Shiny black latex – everywhere. The highest heels I’d ever seen. A riding crop.

“Dear God.”

“Come here,” she commanded, then: “On your knees. Crawl to me. Crawl to me and lick my shoes!”

Yes. That was indeed an interesting evening. Interesting music, I think you could rightly say, too.

+++++

I spent the next morning on a song I called Lemon Tree, the afternoon’s effort would be titled Shining Need. Terry stood behind me almost the entire morning looking at my scribbled notations, and when noon came ‘round she pulled me to the floor and sat on my face for an hour, pulling me with her fingernails until I came – in her mouth – but I couldn’t get the night before out of my music. When I played it through for her she blushed, then I told her to shower and put on the latex again. “And Terry? You must be meaner tonight. You must take us where we’ve never been before.”

And she did. I was stunned at her ferocity, and how easily it came to her. Her need was shining now, shining right through me on a place I’d never been.

We went out to the swimming pool after, and I left the lights off. We slipped into the water and I pulled her close, pulled her onto me and I held her closer still as I entered. We rocked in the water until I felt myself tensing then releasing inside her, still swaying gently, holding her lips to mine until she began to tremble her way through her own release – and the water was black now, faint stars danced on the surface – and I wondered who was out there watching and waiting, circling, ready to come in for the kill…

The next morning? Starlight Blood, a heavy brooding place that scared us both when I played through the final draft. “We have to go someplace lighter now,” she said after lunch, “or I may end up killing us both.”

“I’m not ready for death, but when I am, I want to die in your arms. Promise me you’ll do that for me.”

“I promise.”

“Death won’t be able to hold us apart. You know that, don’t you?”

She nodded her head.

Those two lines formed the core of the next track, Fate and Promise.

We made love in the pool that night until we could hardly move, then I carried her to the shower and massaged her back to life, and I pulled her so close to me in bed I dreamt of the way her hair smelled.

Which became Sin Scintilla in our next morning.

She reminded me she hadn’t had anything to eat – but me – for two days, so we drove down to the beach, to Gladstones, and we ate Shee Crab soup and broiled shrimp on rice pilaf, then we walked on the beach for an hour, her music beating into me as the sand pushed between our toes.

Which became Seashell, an unfolding story about eternal love

And on and on it went. Every breath she took led me deeper into her music.

Until the last track.

Deni. A ballad about Deni, and why she mattered. We were a broken soul, your music made us whole… My other love. Broken, fluttering and doomed. I broke apart and came undone when I finished those lyrics, and Terry helped me up, led me to our bed and when she lay me down I pulled her on top of my face and ate her until she wept too, then we slept.

I called Jerry and Carlos and Pete – and Niki – and asked them to come by the house next Monday morning.

“We’re going to cut Electric Karma’s last album,” I told them.

“Far out,” Jerry said.

And Pete…my oldest friend in the world would be there in the middle of it all, again. God, I was so happy.

+++++

I could feel the changes Niki was going through, I’d seen it all so many times before. Sudden fame, almost immeasurable wealth had turned her from petite and unassuming to bigger than life almost overnight. She had that force now, the force money confers on the once so meek. She was a year older than I and that, in her mind, justified this new assertiveness – until Shelly pulled her aside and set her straight.

“Aaron’s done this for you,” Shelly told her. “All of this. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung ya.”

She mellowed out, tried to accept that Deni was still bigger than she was. That Deni was one of the strongest voices of the 60s, and that the 60s still defined rock ‘n roll. People helped her understand what she was being given – a seat at the table – if she had the grace and the good sense to sit quietly and listen for a while, to learn.

She was a midwestern gal so full of common sense, and it took her a couple of days but she settled down, watched and listened to Carlos and Jerry, two of the biggest of the San Francisco bigs, as they wrestled with my music. We settled into the new-old vibe again, the collaborative nature of making music. I played a passage and they interpreted what I wrote. The last thing I could do was object to someone hijacking ‘my’ music – that’s not the process. We took my framework and turned it into our version of Karma in 1968. I led Niki into that wilderness, too, let her phrases blend in the music, and we listened to her when she started making suggestions, because that too is part of the vibe. We’d take her thoughts and blend them into the whole – because that IS the vibe – and at the end of the first day I was already looking at Niki like she was part of Deni. Even Jerry, who was still devoted to Deni and what she meant to the scene, started to feel that Deni thing when Niki started singing, and at one point he looked at me and nodded his head slowly, like ‘yeah, I get it now, why you chose her.’

We came together as Electric Karma for two weeks, then we carried the tapes down to MCA and let the folks have a listen. Everyone was blown away, there were even some tears, too, and as I’d hoped they talked about weaving this new material into the old when we played the Coliseum, and this news jazzed me pretty good – as I already knew this would be my last hurrah. Jerry and Carlos had their own things going, and Niki? Hell, who knew where she’d go after this, but it would be big. Me? I planned to do some serious sailing when Tracy got big enough to walk Troubadour’s decks. We were going to see the world together, maybe learn to make our own together.

It was September by then, time to get down to choosing the old numbers we’d play, then playing them over and over until we had them in memory, and all the while I kept the recorders going, laying down tapes of our sessions.

And yeah, Terry was there. Low-key and in the background, and I had to explain to Nik what Terry meant to me – in such a way that the deeper nature of our relationship didn’t overpower her – but Niki said she got it, that she understood, and that she wouldn’t fuck it up for Jennie. I started to love Niki after that. When she came into the room I looked at her and smiled inside, and there were times – like when she fell into the old Deni vibe – that she’d come to me and talk. About what Deni really meant to me, the whole love heroin thing.

“I feel that with you,” she said. “This thing inside the old music. The tension, almost like there was this carnal undertone playing out between her words and your music. When I sing Deni I want to reach out and hold you, then I want to fuck your brains out.”

“That’s what it was like, man,” Jerry said, coming over and sitting with us. “We’d sit around listening to her and it was like, man, I got to get inside this chick’s head, see where this power’s coming from. Then one day I knew. She didn’t simply project love, she was mainlining lust and when you watched the way she sang you wanted that lust too. You felt like you needed to take her because that’s what she wanted you to do. Now…imagine that happening in the room at the Fillmore…with hundreds of dudes getting amped up on that vibe. She was fucking with fire, I mean literally fucking fire onstage, daring people to fall into her vibe.”

It’s what happens when you fall inside music. When you make it, not listen to it. The notes start playing through your synapses and as you mold the music into your being it comes through your life like a hot knife. The Feel Flows through you, if you dig Brian Wilson – white hot glistening. When you’re playing you become this other thing: you, and the music in you takes over. When you come down after, down in soft blue drifting, you snap out of it and realize you’ve been someplace else. A special someplace only music takes you. You’re different. Changed.

And I watched Deni coming to life again inside Niki when she sang Deni’s words, because Deni was truly inside her now, taking Niki to that place she used to go. I watched Niki over my keyboards, watched the change come down on her, the way her body swayed, then I’d look at Terry and feel this divine thing settle inside me, the same beast I felt when I created Lucy. Terry was the constant, the universal fuck that lived inside this place, this craving penetration that rolled through me. Feel Flows, baby. Brian got it right that time. Shadowy flows.

We went out to the Amphitheater and did a run through concert to an ‘invitation only’ crowd of maybe 1500 people. No nerves, no bad vibes, and we played for two hours straight then just sat on the edge of the stage and watched everyone go nuts. This was Niki’s first taste of that electric adoration, the wall of love that rises up from the other side of the lights and breaks over you, and she started laughing, then crying, and she leaned into me.

“Way to go, babe,” I whispered in her ear.

I knew it then. I knew she loved me now. She was Deni, she was love heroin all wrapped up inside that something new, that something she didn’t quite understand yet. She was becoming music, this creature of the otherworld. She could understand what drew me to Terry now, what made Terry an imperative, and she wanted inside that part of me now.

She put her arms around me and I sighed, could feel Deni there beside me again, the spring she gave me once.

I hopped down and walked out into the surging crowd, felt the light breaking over me.

I felt immortal, if only for a moment.

+++++

I got a couple of bungalows at the BH, put Warren and Michelle in one, their daughters in the other, and Jennie and Tracy came to the house with me and Terry – and Niki.

Jennie was astonished at the change that had come over her big sister, the way she walked barefoot around the house in undies and a t-shirt. The way she draped herself over me when we were down in the studio, when the music came. Jennie couldn’t relate – but Tracy did. I started playing notes and chords with her on my lap, and I could see it taking hold deep inside my child’s mind. She’d be sitting there with her eyes open one moment, then she’d be swaying with eyes closed in a heartbeat, inside the music with me. Jennie watched that going down first in Niki, then inside Tracy, and I think she felt like she’d been on the outside for a long time – and never had a clue what was going on inside, until now.

And Jennie could feel the whole Terry thing now. Terry kept her distance but I insisted she stay within sight of me now at all times. Jennie was starting to freak out but Niki hit her like a missile, took her aside and laid it out for her.

“Terry is his muse, she always will be so don’t fuck with the vibe. You fuck it up and you’ll lose him. Simple as that.”

The thing with Jennie? She knew me, she knew my love for her was real, deeper than deep, but now she was learning my love for her existed in the world outside music, outside that springtime Deni created for me. The place Terry kept me rooted to. There were two of me, and she had one of them, but only one. She’d hated Terry before but after living with us that week she came upon the terms of her surrender. Accept what is or move on. If I lost Terry I’d lose me. I think she sensed that if she left I’d move on, but if I lost Terry I’d be wandering the ruins, lost inside a broken, melting Dali landscape.

You love a musician at your own risk. Feel Flows different here, white hot glistening.

I talked to Terry about Warren and his tongue-tied infatuation and she looked at me.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Shake up his world a little. Michelle’s taking him for granted – she needs, I think, a little jealousy in her life.”

Poor man. When Terry McKay turns on the sex appeal it’s devastating. I told Jennie what was going to go down and to take her mom out shopping – Terry could tell her where to pick up some appropriate lingerie. Surely someone into quantum mechanics could come to terms with simple attraction? Cause and effect? What’s been down a while still needs to come up? Sunrise, sunsets – ya know?

We set up at the coliseum the day before, ran through a few numbers for the media and we began figuring out a real 60s-type happening was blowin’ in the wind, that the event was SRO now with a hundred and thirty thousand tickets sold.

And we announced the new album at the press conference, that copies would be going on sale the day after the concert, but that a special edition would be available at the concert. Karma Kubed, with Niki Clemens handling vocals. Yes, we’ll be playing a few of the new songs at the concert. Yeah, the vibe is right on, it’s felt like we’re channeling Deni…very cool stuff.

We made the news, anyway.

I woke up the day of the concert feeling like pure electricity. I couldn’t keep still, went downstairs and sat in the dark listening to The Beach Boys, trying to focus on their vibe, their quicksilver moons.

I felt her then.

Tracy, my little girl. She stumbled through the dark and found her way to my lap, crawled up and cuddled up beside me, within me, and I held her close, let her inside for a while as I drifted in Brian’s music.

Jennie came down a little later, told me she was going over to the hotel, spend some time with her parents and that she’d see me at the Coliseum.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too, babe. Seeya there.”

She left me with Terry, who’d found this outrageous jade colored lingerie down on Hollywood Boulevard. Oh…did we make some outrageous music that afternoon…and she promised to sit front row center so I’d be able to focus on her during the show.

I’d had Shelly send tickets down to Jenn and her family in Newport, and while I doubted they’d show I had my hopes. Their seats would put them next to Tracy and Jennie and my family, right behind Terry and Shelly.

I was in another place by the time we met up with Carlos and Jerry. Niki and Pete were too, but Niki was freaking out. “A hundred and thirty seven thousand people?! This is fuckin’ nuts…” she cried as she circled like a cornered animal. “I can’t fuckin’ do this…I’m scared out of my mind…”

I could see all the classic signs, so I sat down with her, gave her the talk.

“You’re not going to be able to see anything but lights,” I said. “You can’t tell if there are fifty people out there, or fifty million. You’ll hear them, yeah, but just close your eyes, let the music in, let it take you where it always takes you. Give it five minutes and you’re home free, but if it gets to you just come over to, sing to me, sing into my eyes. I’m here for you, okay?”

I held her close, then Warren came inside the tent backstage and took over. A British group, 10cc, were warming up the crowd, and their I’m Not In Love was bringing down the house, then the lights went up and they left the stage.

A stagehand came in, announced “ten minutes!”

Carlos was in the zone, Jerry was standing in a corner, his eyes closed as he played through the toughest riffs in his mind’s eye. Warren left and Niki came over, melted into me, and I could feel her trembling through my own ragged heartbeat.

So I leaned into her and kissed her. Not a brotherly kiss, if you know what I mean. A curl your toes kiss, and she responded in kind, looked at me after like I’d just lit a fuse inside her guts – and she slipped into the zone after that and never once looked back. I’d just become her muse, for better or worse, but that’s the way these things go. We knew the score, didn’t we?

I walked out first and the roar was literally deafening. I felt it through the stage as I walked within the spotlight, as I walked up to my keyboards, then Carlos and Jerry came out and the crowd turned into sustained thunder. When Pete and Niki came out I had to slip on my headphones, then I looked down at Terry, looked at her jade dress and jade stockings and I smiled, then I looked at Tracy and Jennie and blew them a kiss, ignoring the empty seats where Jenn and her pops ought to be. The I raised my fist – and stepped into the light.

+++++

The next morning’s papers said we were flawless, and I don’t know, maybe we were. What I’ll carry with me was Deni, the song, the music. The way Niki came to me then, singing my life, singing her way into my soul. I looked at Jennie and Terry, saw their tears, then I saw almost everyone was crying, even a few of the cops standing by the stage. Whatever it was, that song took all of us back to 1968 – and made us reexamine our lives in the shattered light of her death. I played an extended interval, took the music ever downward, fluttering down to deepest octaves as Deni’s jet might have, as Deni might have while she watched her death unfolding, and Niki came up from behind, put her arms around me while I played, and I felt her leaning against me, crying, and when she stepped back into the light everyone saw what had happened to her and I felt this huge outpouring of love, pure love, the love only music conveys as it washed over our shores.

The rest was, literally, all a blur. One long blur of memory. One of Deni’s first anthems, Tiger’s Eye, pulled me in so deeply…I was in the purple paisley house adrift in a sea of patchouli again, watching her watch my hands as I played the first version of the entry. How she changed the phrasing of her words to reinforce my rolling chords, and I watched Niki watching my hands, forcing rhythm changes of her own – and it was like the three of us were out there, together, creating something new out of the past.

And I’d look from Jennie to Terry, my two touchstones, each representing polar extremes so far apart it was funny, each so intimately tied to my soul it was unnerving. Terry in her stockings, Jennie with my daughter, already showing as our first composition took form in her womb. Then I was in a limo headed for an after-concert bash at The Bistro, Jerry and Carlos still in the zone as the Lincoln fought through traffic – Niki leaning into me, biting my neck, almost purring with Deni’s lust now coursing through her veins. Drinks and dinner, family and friends, big-wigs from the studio – along with their wives and kids, teenaged girls who told me they wanted to suck something and I’m like really? Get a life, and get away from me, you might be contagious.

The Fillmore was real. You could smell us up there onstage because we were in a room smaller than a basketball court. The Coliseum wasn’t real, it was spectacle. We weren’t musicians, we were being pawned off as demigods while venues like the Fillmore were disappearing into commercial oblivion. Politics in music was being reordered to fit into the marketplace, so political messaging was on it’s way out at the big studios, which only meant emerging groups would flock to small, local studios and politics in music would become regional, local, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. But what would happen if ‘main street’ music became a commercial avenue?

That’s what I watched taking form that night. San Francisco nights giving way to LA glitz. What had been real was going to be trivialized, and I knew I had to get away from it or I’d die a slow, meaningless death.

Jennie and Tracy came by, took one look at the scene and disappeared. Niki remained glued to me, started holding my hand, then wrapping her arms in mine, becoming more possessive by the minute – Terry and Shelly looked on with wry smiles, while Carlos shook his head. Warren finally rescued me, took her back to the hotel and I left with Terry a few minutes later, but we drove out to Malibu and I parked down by the beach, carried her out to the sand and set her down gently while I laid out a blanket. I ate my way into her for hours, until her trembling became too much, then she finished me off and we lay there, listening to the surf while the light faded and my world returned.

She’d watched me at The Bistro, she knew the score. If she was my muse, if she made the music real, what happened when I turned away from music?

“Are we over?” she asked.

“We’ll never be over, Terry. We’ll never stop making music.”

“What comes next?”

“Tracy. The next part of the symphony is all her.”

“What about me?”

“You know, Terry, sometimes I can go a few months without you, but I start to fall apart if we’re apart much longer than that. We’ll work around that.”

“What about Jennie?”

“I won’t sacrifice you for her. She either accepts what is, or…”

“No. That’s not right, Aaron. You can’t push that on her.”

“And I can’t live without you. Simple as that.”

“No, it’s not that simple. Tracy has Jennie now, they’ve bonded.”

“I won’t give you up, Terry. And don’t make me do that, either.”

“Reading my mind?”

“Look, all I know is we’ll end up together, you and I, at the end. But between now and then? I won’t live without you in my life.”

“You know, in a couple of years I’ll be getting ‘old lady’ roles, if I get any at all, and all my leading men will have white hair. It happens to all of us, I guess.”

“And won’t I have white hair too.”

“Yes.”

“And I’ll still love you, won’t I?”

“You will?”

“I’ll always love you. I’ll always need you. And I’ll always want you.”

“Unless I get fat.”

“Don’t get fat.”

“Oh, alright,” she sighed. “God, you’re so high maintenance!”

“And you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. You’ve got to take care of that.”

“What about Niki? You started something last night, you know?”

“I did, on purpose. She had to grow beyond herself last night, see the next part of her career. I helped that along. And I’ll have to help her the next few steps along the road, get her up and on her own two feet. Then she’ll be okay.”

“What if she falls in love with you?”

“She already has,” I sighed.

“Oh?”

“Complicated, isn’t it? I have a theory, though. Those deep mid-west roots will kick in, she’ll run home and get married to an old beau soon, settle down and have some kids.”

“You think? I don’t know, not after last night.”

“How much you wanna bet?”

“I win, you have to eat me for five hours.”

“And if I win?”

“You have to eat me for five hours.”

“I’ll take that bet.”

“And do you know what I want you to do now?”

“Sun’s coming up in an hour.”

“Then you better get to work…”

+++++

So, a few weeks later Tracy and I are on Troubadour, in the marina on St Mary’s Bay, Auckland, and I’m letting her walk along the deck – roped up in a safety harness, mind you – getting her used to the whole boat thing, and Niki is sitting in the cockpit, watching us. Watching me, really, ‘cause she’s got it bad. It wasn’t a week after I got back she flew in, and it wasn’t two hours after she got to our house that Jennie had become annoyed. So…I told Jennie to just chill out, that I’d take care of it. And I did.

I took Niki sailing, again.

She’d been of a mind that sailing was for her, so I just took her out for a nice four day sail, out to the Cape Reinga lighthouse and back. We talked music, we talked babies. We talked about Jennie and Tracy, Jennie and the new baby. About what it meant to be a parent. She wanted kids, too, she told me.

“Have a father in mind?” I asked.

“Yeah. You.”

“Oh? And what about Jennie?”

“Nothing. She doesn’t have to know. We fuck until I’m pregnant, then I leave.”

“Why?”

“I’m not all that into guys, Aaron, but I want a baby. And you’ve got the music genes I want.”

“So? What, no love? Just sex, babies and bye-bye?”

“Oh, I love you, Aaron. Maybe not as much as Terry, but I love you.”

“And what about me? If I’m the father, what happens to the kid? Does he know who I am?”

“Yup. And Aaron, that’s kids. Not kid. As in plural, not singular.”

“And what’s that do to Jennie?”

“Well, for one thing, all these kids will be related – to you. We’ll all be, in a way, your wives, and they’ll be brothers and sisters, not cousins.”

“You do know I’m not a Mormon? And that this whole conversation is getting weird?”

“Yeah? So? This is what I came down here for.”

“To get pregnant? For me to get you pregnant?”

“Yup.”

“You know, I’ve never had sex with someone I didn’t love.”

“So? Fall in love with me – again.”

“Again?”

“Yeah, when we did Deni the first time I could feel you falling in love with me. It was real then, it’ll be real tomorrow. And I’ll have your kids, so you’ll love me all that much more.”

“You’ve got this figured out, don’t you?”

“Yup.”

“And this is what you want?”

“Yes.”

“And you love me?”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

“Why?”

“You know why. Everything you’ve done for me. Before you, the only thing a guy ever gave me was a Dilly Bar at a Dairy Queen. You gave me a life, and so much more. You’re my husband, whether you want to be, or not. And I’m all you’ve got left of Deni.”

She wasn’t a colossal fuck, but then again, neither was Jennie. Neither got anywhere near Terry on the Lust-o-meter, but Niki could hold her own and I enjoyed being inside her, the feeling of reproductive urges being met, and satisfied. By the time we made it back to St Mary’s I’d pumped about two quarts into her motor, and if that didn’t do the job I didn’t know what would.

She bought a little place in town, a three bedroom house, and when Jennie seemed put out by that I told her she didn’t need to worry; as far as I could tell Niki wasn’t into guys…

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“She told me she’s not into guys, okay?”

“You mean she’s a…?”

“Hey, I didn’t go there…”

Which seemed to put an end to that – for the time being, anyway.

And so, there we were, down on Troubadour. Tracy walking the deck and me holding on for dear life, with Niki in the cockpit staring at my ass – or so she said – and when we came back to sit in the shade for a while Niki leaned over and said something along the lines of “I’m late.”

“Oh? How long?”

“A week?”

I shrugged. “That doesn’t mean a thing.”

“I know, but I feel it.”

“That means something.”

She grinned. “I know, Papa.”

A week later, she knew. She returned to the States, began planning for a life in New Zealand. I began dreaming of a life away from women, then remembered I had a little girl who needed a father, and another who’d join us in four months. Yes, we knew now we had another girl coming and all of a sudden it looked like the very idea of sailing away was about to be buried under a pile of soiled diapers.

Then Shelly called. Thank God.

MCA wanted to know if…

“I’ll be on the next flight up.”

And I sat on a DC-10 thinking about diapers. Cause and effect, ya know. You use it often enough and odds are you’re going to make babies. Trouble is, I knew now, I didn’t want a bunch of babies. I wanted to be on Troubadour. I didn’t want responsibility. I didn’t want to take care of any lives beyond my own, and possibly Terry. And Terry was this self-contained fuck machine whose only interest seemed to be getting me off then disappearing into the woodwork. She was, I realized, every man’s ideal playmate, and she was mine. When I wanted her. If not, just get on a plane and fly away. Come back in a few months when I needed to get laid without any head trips.

But that’s not how it works, Bucko.

You fuck someone you love, you have kids you love and you get them going down the road to finding love. You don’t find a girl and make her your pretend wife. You don’t fuck a girl and leave her in a funny farm, take her kid and then sail away, leaving all these kids with the pretend wife. Now the pretend wife’s big sister was carrying my baby too. No strings attached – “Just get me pregnant!” – and she’ll take care of the rest.

But what was Berkeley really all about?

Wasn’t it ‘Freedom!’

Free speech. Free love. Open marriages. Like hummingbirds flying from flower to flower, dipping our wicks into each new golden honey pot, depositing our seed and moving on, flying to the next flower, falling in love for a half hour then flying out the window. Who knows what I left behind?

MCA wanted me to produce Niki’s first real album.

Niki had flown straight to LA, flown to see Shelly, flown to get me to come back to LA. Flown to set her own trap. Trap the hummingbird, cage him, stop him from flying away again. I saw myself flying over the Pacific, my wings growing tired as I flew from flower to flower, then flying into a new house, Niki slamming the windows shut behind me, trapping me. Then diapers everywhere. Little white surrender flags covered in shit, and out the window, in the distance, a boat, sailing away. I’m hovering on the wrong side of the glass, trying to find a way back out to Freedom, but Freedom was the trap, wasn’t it?

No, I had freedom and it trapped me.

Is freedom supposed to work like that?

What is Freedom? Why was Freedom a trap?

Someone was pushing on me and I woke up, saw downtown LA out the window, looked up and saw a stewardess telling me to get my seatback up and I shook the dream away – but it didn’t want to leave just yet. Like a bad aftertaste this dream was lingering, telling me to wake up before it was too late.

I looked out the window, saw the ground reaching up for me, saw Century City off in the distance. Home. I was home again. Terry would be home. Terry, with her silk legs opening to receive my seed, then flying from window to window, trying to find my way back to Freedom. Always these circles, nipping at the heels.

Part IV

She was wearing the deepest blue, blue – like her eyes.

Shocking electric blue lingerie. And she was so beautiful sprawled out on the bed, my cum on her face. My sweat mingling with hers.

“God, I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

“I can’t keep doing this, Terry,” I cried. I can’t keep leaving you, wanting you and not having you. It’s going to kill me, and I’m afraid it might kill you too.”

“What’s happened, Aaron?”

I told her about Niki and she smiled.

“So, you think she wants to trap you?”

“What else could it be?”

“Hormones. Hormonally induced insecurity. She wants to be loved right now, to be spoon fed love until that baby comes, but by then she won’t have any left to give you.”

“What should I do?”

“Give me your cock.”

And she worked me back to life – and I fell inside her again, like Lucifer falling through the clouds. Her physical perfection was all that I craved, her seared emotional landscape the only place left where life made any kind of sense. Her blue silk cradling my face, licking the sides of her feet while I arced into her, electric need spilling between us in endless electron flows, and when the trembling began again I turned to pure, solid spasm and yes, my seed drifted within her honey – again.

Her hands on my face, she is licking me. Her legs have wrapped around me and she is pulling me inward again. I am on my hands, over her now, breathing hard, sweat falling again and all I feel is this liquid warmth between us. My spreading seed, her encasing flows all mingling now.  Her hands coaxing me down, my lips to hers, all warm breath as tongues join, as I feel my skin so perfectly mated to hers. We fit. Together. Perfectly.

She is moving under me again, trembling anew. I feel it in her thighs, then inside her, and she has hands inside her womb milking me. Something inside grasping me, pulling me, forcing every drop of need from my body – into hers.

“I love you so,” she whispers.

I am shaking my head, now totally aware there is only one woman I’ll ever truly love, and she is here, under me, and I feel so ashamed. A deceiver. Only the one person I deceived the most is me. My deceptions have led these other women on, onward into unjustified hope. Maybe I would burn in Hell if only I believed in such things, but for now I would burn inside Terry McKay – and let the rest of the world look away. They could burn without me now – just please, leave me inside Terry.

“I can’t spend another day without you by my side,” I said.

– And she looked away.

A telling look. Like the kind that makes you think about the handwriting on the wall.

“I’ve met someone, Aaron. I’m leaving soon, for England. I may not be back, as a matter of fact.”

“Really? What was this, then? My goodbye fuck?”

“No, I love you, but I wasn’t sure I could go on like this. So I, well, I started to look for options.”

“And you’ve found one?”

“I think so.”

“It’s what you want?”

“No, it isn’t. Not really.”

“But you’re going to anyway?”

“Yes, I think so. Because I think it’s what you need, too. Get me out of your system, put these dalliances out reach, someplace where you can’t easily get to them. Take care of Jennie and Tracy – and Niki, too.”

“Maybe you weren’t listening just now. You know, the part where I said I can’t live without you?”

“You can. And you will.”

“So, marry me, Terry. Stay with me. Let’s finish this thing together. See where life takes us, you and me.”

She shook her head, smiled at me. “I’ve got to let you grow up now, Aaron. Let you live up to the burden of your responsibilities. These are your children, Aaron, not mine, and not ours. You’re going to have to face that. That you are a father now. That people depend on you.”

“And then what? I die inside – I die every day we’re apart?”

“You raise your kids. You give them all the love I know you can. You teach them music, you teach them to paint. You love Jennie, maybe not like you love me, but you love her. You be a mensch, not a nobody.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Aaron? If you need me, as a friend, I’ll be there.”

I shook my head, looked at her like she’d just knifed me in the gut, then I stood, held out my hand and helped her up. We held hands as we walked to the shower, and I bathed her, now trying to program the feel of her through our wet skin. While she dresses I notice all her clothes are gone from her closet, and I know she’ll be leaving soon. While I’m drying off I hear the phone and go to take the call, and it’s Shelly.

“So, you’re in?”

“I am.”

“Meeting at MCA, ten in the morning. Iron out the contract. I think I got you good terms.”

“How’d you make out from the concert?”

“Amazing.”

“So, I made some money too?”

“You didn’t get me statement?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll bring it along with me tomorrow, but you did well, Aaron. Pops would be proud.”

“So, where’s Niki?”

“At the Beverly Hills. Registered as Rooster Cogburn, if you want to call.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Original, isn’t it?”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you in the morning.”

When I turned around Terry was nowhere to be seen. Her car was gone, too, and the only thing she’d left was her lingerie and heels. I went to the kitchen and got a Baggie and put her things in the bag and sealed it shut, then walked around the house, looking at her life – and Pop’s – spread out around the house. The place was, I saw, more a museum now that any kind of home, and I walked down to the studio, now wide awake despite the hour. I looked at the studio and my keyboards, then the phone rang and I walked over and picked it up.

“You’re going to be okay,” Terry said.

“Am I?”

“The spare key to my car is on the kitchen table; it’s parked in the garage opposite International Departures, building 7, third floor, space C79. Do you have something to write with?”

“Yup.”

She read out her phone number, where she’d be in London, and I committed the number to memory. “If that changes, I’ll leave word with Shelly.”

“Okay.”

“Aaron? Don’t ever think I did this because I’ve fallen out of love with you. I haven’t. I can’t. But we can’t go on like this, can we?”

“Marry me, Terry. Stay with me.”

“Call me in a few months. Do the right thing, Aaron. Not for me, but for us.”

Then the line went dead and I sighed, looked at the numbers on the paper like they were a lifeline, and I sat down and looked around my studio.

I’d be bringing this room back to life tomorrow, but could I – without Terry?

What could I do without her?

I sat in the near dark thinking about what she really meant to me, and I knew she was right. Life would go on. I would write music without her. Good music. Maybe not great, but we’d see.

Then the phone rang again and I snatched it up: “Hello?”

“It’s me. Niki. Are you still up?”

“I slept on the plane.”

“Could I come over?”

“Sure. Door’s open, I’m downstairs.”

“Is it close enough? Could I walk?”

“You could, but it’s not something I’d recommend at three in the morning, not it LA.”

“Don’t you have a car there?”

“No. Terry left it at the airport – I’ve got to run out and get it.”

“What?”

“Terry left.”

“For good?”

“Sounds that way.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, hanging up the phone.

And sure enough, I heard the front door shut about ten minutes later, then heard her coming down the stairs and into the studio. I was still sitting, inert, in the darkness. Still thinking about life after Terry – and she came right to me and sat, took me in her arms and cradled me.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt too burned up inside for tears, for much of anything, but Niki got that…

“How’s the baby?” I asked after a bit.

“Good.”

“You been writing any songs?”

“I tried, but I’m not sure I know how, really. I think I’ll rely on you this time out. Maybe teach me the basics, how you go about it.”

“Got any lyrics yet?”

“Yeah. Ten songs I think are okay. A few that aren’t.”

“Oh? We’ll look at those first. Got ‘em with you?”

“I brought everything with me.”

“Yeah?”

“I wanted…could I move in with you?”

I thought for a minute, then nodded my head. “Yeah, sure.”

Terry was right. Niki was insecure. She needed love. And in the end, I was sure there’d be nothing left for me – but what the fuck, ya know? What the fuck.

+++++

I tried to pretend Niki was Terry, that Niki could be my muse, but the energy was different. Not wrong, but different. Niki was a hot, wet towel draped over my face, suffocating, maybe, after the initial surge of comfort. Her lyrics were inconsequential, too, mid-western white bread. Empty love songs, all longing without purpose.

She liked country music, the real old southern country stuff, and she liked rock, but she was trying to blend the two without any idea of the structure she wanted. Creating something new out of the two forms was going to be tricky at best, because country music wasn’t structured like rock. Because there was a fairly generous antipathy between Southern Country and the rest of the music world. Yet that’s where she wanted to go.

So it would have to be soft-rock infused country music, a commercialized amalgam of styles I’d never tried before. I wasn’t even sure why she wanted me to help her with this, as there were others who could take her into these uncharted waters a lot better than I. Still, she liked to curl up on the bed, and she even got into the whole lingerie and heels thing too, which was odd. Like she wanted to be Terry McKay, but could never be. She wanted to be sexy, and she tried to be without ever realizing that sexy is not something you can try to be. You either are or you are not, and she wasn’t.

And that was a problem, too. She wanted to project sex in her album, which meant photoshoots for the album art would have to project sex, but who the devil thought sex would appeal to a Southern Country audience?

Well, color me wrong.

MCA hired a photographer who normally shot the wide open spaces for the likes of Penthouse, and with makeup artists in tow they worked for two days getting just the right look. Kind of Nashville’s idea of a cowboy’s hooker from hell, with no pubes or nipples and just a little symbolism to placate the Baptist set, the image reflected what I thought would be the best song of the lot, a mushy ballad called Rocking Chair. The engineers thought my Mellotrons and Moogs sounded a little too insincere so I yanked those out and inserted a seventy piece orchestra into the mix, to the tune of about 20 grand at union scales, but it sounded nice. When the single of Rocking Chair was sent to country stations around LA for a tryout it shot to number one in two days.

Then Jennie called.

“You ever coming home?”

“Yeah. We should wrap it up inside a week.”

“How’s Terry?”

“She’s gone. Left for London, for good.”

A long pause followed, then: “How’s Niki?”

“She’s not Terry, so don’t worry.”

“She told Dad she’s pregnant. Any idea who the father is?”

“Nope. But nothing would surprise me. She’s gotten kinda popular out here.”

“What are you doing…for company?”

“Waiting to get back home.”

“Yeah? You? Playing it all faithful?”

“Am I that bad?”

She laughed. “Aaron, you’re a four-wheel drive cock – in overdrive. Always on the go.”

I laughed at that. “Wow. Now that’s an image.”

“I don’t know why I love you, but I do?”

“Yeah? Well, I love you, and I know why.”

“Oh, yeah? Why?”

“I’ll show you when I get home.”

“Promises, promises.”

“How’s Tracy?”

“Eating like a horse. Asking about you.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. She needs her daddy.”

“I need her, too. How’s the spud?”

“She’s kicking a lot. I think she wants to get out, go for a walk on the beach.”

“Maybe I should get a bigger house, one I could put a studio in, ya know?”

“If that means you stay here more, I’m all for it.”

“This stuff with Niki might take off. Her first single is going to be big.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“This is exciting…!”

“Unexpected, but I think we make an interesting team. Kind of like Electric Karma meets Hank Williams, Jr.”

She laughed again. “Oh, gawd…”

“Yeah, driving me nuts. Deni would kill me, but it’s a challenge, in a good way. Stepping outside my comfort zone…learning a lot.”

And I was. That was the funny thing about it. Even the western musicians who came over to the studio had something to teach, and they learned stuff from me, too. Because in the end we were musicians, just trying to tell the stories, ya know?

Once we wrapped up the sessions we sent the tapes over to Burbank and waited for the word, and Niki went seriously Terry on me, nasty lingerie and nastier talk, and that night the L-word started slipping into her conversation more and more. I guess it had to happen. The thing is, I was starting to have real feelings for her too. I was gentle with her that night, like I didn’t want to give the baby a rough ride, but I felt a tenderness towards her I hadn’t felt before, too. The way I held her face, kissed her. The way she took me in her mouth, the way she hungrily told me she wanted it all. The way she swallowed, then looked up at me.

The guys at MCA were effusive the next morning, and there was talk of a concert deal.

“Count me out, guys,” I said. “I’ve got kids to take care of.”

So yeah, a studio musician could take my place on the road, no big deal, but with Niki starting to show concerts weren’t what she needed to be setting out to do.

“Maybe after the baby,” she said, and the studio reluctantly agreed.

So, I picked up the house, called an interior decorator and when the gal came over I told her I wanted the house redone, completely – “Just leave my studio functionally alone,” then Niki and I packed up and left for Auckland.

Jennie knew, of course. I don’t know how, maybe Niki told her, but no doubt she could see it in her sister’s eyes, too. Yet it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was back in the same bedroom with her and that was all that seemed to matter. I found a nice place on Mellons Bay and started work on a bigger studio, met with an architect to get the project going, met with a musician’s group and a few local politicians, outlined plans for a few new albums to see if I’d have community support, then I turned my attention to Troubadour.

She’d been neglected and it showed, but the damage was cosmetic and easily fixed. I started taking Tracy out several times a week, getting her used to the motion, and Jennie asked if she could come and I was adamant: not until after the baby. Same with Niki, for that matter.

Michelle was born that autumn, well, it was spring down there, and with her mother’s reddish-blond curls she was gorgeous, a real green eyed lady. Granma Michelle came down to spend a month with us, and that turned to four months – but only because the weather was so damn nice. Uh-huh, right.

But Granma Michelle was also the one to pick up on the Niki vibe. She was lady enough to not ask about it, but I could see the awareness in her eyes. I was also the one behind her oldest daughter’s sudden stardom, her debut album shooting up the country charts and earning her daughter some serious money, so maybe she didn’t want to rock the boat, or maybe she just didn’t understand – whatever – she was polite to me, but that was all. And that was enough, for me. I couldn’t help who I was any more than I could stop Niki or Jennie from feeling about me the way they did, and everyone was copacetic about things so there wasn’t any point in rocking the boat, was there?

In the end, I was father to all their grandkids but Tracy, yet they considered Tracy their’s too.

Which brings us full circle, to Jenn. Poor Jenn.

Her father had a massive heart, a few days after she was released from her psychiatric hospital, and I think, from what I was able to gather from news reports, she finally broke him down and tore him apart. That was the official version, anyway. So yeah, then I got a call from Shelly late at night, and she told me that I needed to come up to LA on the double, and that it had something to do with Jenn.

“Should I bring Tracy?”

“Not this time,” Shelly said – cautiously.

“You mean, like I need to run to the airport right now?”

“Now would be good.”

She picked me up at the airport and we drove down to Newport Beach in near silence.

“What happened, Shelly?”

“Jenn, well, she shot her father.”

“She – what?”

“Right in the main pump. He dropped to the ground, dead as a doornail. Her mother watched it go down, then ran out of the house. Jenn’s in the ER, doped up and out of it, but she asked to see you. Won’t talked to the police until she talks to you first.”

“Fuck.”

“You got it.”

So I shut up the rest of the drive, tried to ignore the heavy traffic on the 405 – at two in the morning – and by the time we got to the hospital, and to the room where she was “under observation” – I was really in a funk.

She shot him? I kept to myself saying over and over.

A detective was there, waiting, and he went in with us after I’d been searched for weapons and drugs. Jenn was wide-eyed, staring out the window at Newport Harbor, and she turned to me, slowly, when we came in.

Her hands were cuffed to the bed, her eyes bloodshot, like angry red pools of blood.

“I wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore,” she said. “Not again.”

I pulled a chair up to her bed, took her hand. “I know. Something had to give, didn’t it?”

“He kept talking about getting Tracy back. So he could love her the way he had loved me. I couldn’t let him do it, Aaron.”

The detective leaned over. “The way he loved you? How was that, Miss?”

Jenn ignored the cop, just looked into my eyes.

“Jenn, you’ve got to tell someone. No one understands. You’ve got to tell me, at least…”

“He wanted to fuck her like he used to fuck me.”

“When did he start doing that to you, Jenn?” I asked.

“Always. He did it as far back as I can remember…”

We talked about it some more, but really, what was the point. That was what she wanted me to know. Then I asked her one more question: “What do you want me to tell Tracy?”

“Don’t tell her about me. She’ll never remember, anyway, but don’t you ever tell her about me. I don’t want anyone to remember me like this…”

“Look, if you change your mind, want to see her…”

“No!” she screamed. “Go away – now! I don’t ever want to see you again…”

Newport Beach’s finest escorted me from the room, and I talked with the detective for a while, and besides learning he was an Electric Karma fan I told him about all I knew, and about the custody hearing a few years back, and that was that. Shelly drove me back to Foothill Road, and after I got my bags out of the trunk I walked around to thank her, then walked up to the house.

Lights were on, music was playing gently in the background and I turned, looked at Shelly. She looked at me and smiled, then drove off.

The door was open so I walked in, followed the music to the bedroom, found Terry laying there in her latex catsuit, a minor bullwhip already in hand, ready for the next performance. We did not come up for air for days.

We went to Gladstone’s for soup and shrimp when we finally emerged. She’d had enough of London, she told me. Enough of life without me. Without California, too. When Shelly called and told her about Jenn she called British Caledonian and was on her way. I didn’t ask any other questions, just told her I was happy to have her back in my life. Because I was. I called Jennie, told her what had happened, and that I’d hang around here to finish up work on the house, be back in Auckland as soon as I could. But yeah, the work was done, the house looked cool and the bedroom serene, but we didn’t get out of the room much after that. We lived in a state of pure fuck, pure, nonstop fuck, like two shipwrecked people just plucked from their deserted island and turned loose on a Sunday brunch buffet.

“Should I stay here?” she asked me at one point. “Or should I go to Moorea?”

“You’re Commonwealth. Come to Auckland.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

+++++

And so began the most exhilarating time of my life.

The next seven years were astonishing. Raising kids, and I do mean kids, as Jennie and I had Rebecca two years after Michelle, and after Niki gave birth to Deni – and yeah, I know, but it had to happen – I gave her Victoria. I took the girls sailing together all the time, the babies and their mothers, and when I wasn’t tied up with them Terry tied me up. I was surrounded every waking moment by three women who loved me completely, and then I had five girls whom I doted on – completely. Niki and I produced three more albums in that span, each better received than the one before, and, near the end of that time Jennie decided she might try for her MD.

Then all sorts of things started turning sour.

The first? Warren, working at the clinic on Moorea, simply stood up from a chair and clutched his chest, said “Oh, my,” on his way to the floor – and he was gone. Just like that. Except he was with me and Tracy when that happened. I called Jennie, in Auckland, and she hopped on a flight to Papeete with Niki and the girls. Michelle was devastated, and even Terry was, too.

I was left to settle Warren’s affairs, and he declared he wanted a chapel built on the island, and he’d left funds to make it happen. No one was surprised how many lives he’d touched, or by how many who came to the dedication of the chapel, but his ashes were interred there, as I mentioned earlier, and everyone was there for the service – even Terry, who Warren fantasized about ‘til the end.

A year later Jennie found a lump in her left breast, and lets just say treatments were not as effective in the early 80s as they are now. She fought it for a little over a year and everyone was with her at the end, but she wasn’t ready and she fought it. I didn’t know you could fight death like that, not like the way she did. She was scared, and angry, said it wasn’t her time, then she screamed and literally started to pass, then crawled back to life, only to get hysterical and start the struggle again. That lasted a day and it was horrifying to watch, but in the end it didn’t make any difference, and we carried her ashes to Moorea to rest with her father’s.

The girls, all of them, were as shattered as I by her passing, but what left me reeling was the thought that we never got to finish our trip together. On Troubadour. And yet she was still sitting down there on the water, waiting for my return. Then I heard that Jenn had finally succeeded, in a psychiatric prison. I didn’t hear how she did it, only that she had finally succeeded, and I was left to reconcile the two of them, my two Jennifers. One doomed to a life of hell, the other doomed to a life too short. One who’d had too much, too soon, and one who’d never get enough – linked to Tracy now and forever.

And so it was Tracy who first went to sea with me, to finish Jennie’s voyage. We sailed up to Moorea, then to Hawaii, when she was nine years old when we started out together, and she was already a good sailor. Michelle was next. She wanted to see Japan, the temples and castles around Kyoto, and we spent a year on Troubadour exploring the Sea of Japan. She dove with the Ama and we walked mountain trails alive with cherry blossoms, and we took hundreds of pictures of temples. When we got back to Auckland we started painting everything we remembered. Rebecca was next, and we sailed from Japan north to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, to Newport Beach, and Troubadour had a homecoming there. I re-powered her there, replaced her rigging and sails, then Michelle joined us and we sailed her back along the track of our original voyage, from San Diego to Nuku Hiva, Papeete and Auckland.

I thought about selling Troubadour then, but Niki wanted her girls to experience life at sea, with me, so Deni and Victoria and I set sail for Australia when they were 14 and 11, then we pushed on to Cape Town, South Africa, before getting on the conveyor ride back to New Zealand. Niki wanted to take a trip with me, so we sailed up to Moorea and visited her father and Jennie in their garden. She flew home and I sailed away. It wasn’t long until Victoria left for college, and I, now in my mid-fifties, Terry in her late sixties, decided it was time to fly to London and get married.

And she still cleaned my clock, her love still left me breathless and feeling more alive than was humanly possible. We left London and returned to LA, and we decided it was time to put the place in New Zealand on the market, and that was one of the last projects Shelly oversaw for me. She passed a year after the house sold, a year after Terry and I set sail from Auckland, two drifters headed out, outbound to see the world. My huckleberry friend.

We sailed from Auckland to Australia, she and I, then on to the Yemen. We transited the Suez, sailed to Greece, then Sardinia. She turned 70 in Porto, on Corsica, and we made it on the beach – for the first time in our lives without lingerie. We stopped in Gibraltar, spend a week there getting some skin cancers cut out, then we crossed to the BVI and, eventually, two years later, we transited the Panama Canal and sailed to Hawaii, technically completing a circumnavigation somewhere along the way.

Terry fell in Honolulu, hurt her hip so we flew home to LA and I let her recuperate for a year while I wrote my first serious classical work. I filed it away for posterity when it was done, for after I was gone. Maybe someone would play it someday, but that would be for the girls to decide, not me. I did write one more Electric Karma album, and I called it Troubadour. The last of the San Francisco clan came to the house and we worked on it for three months, then Niki came and filled in the vocals, with Deni helping – everything coming full circle on the master recording.

Troubadour fell into disuse again, languished in Hawaii for two years before I returned to her and worked her over one last time. When she was perfect again I left, alone this time, for a last voyage to California.

As Jenn and her father once had, I arced north towards Alaska, then cut east for Vancouver and picked up the currents that pulled me home. I bypassed Seattle and made for the Golden Gate, spent a week walking Berkeley, found Deni’s purple paisley house had been painted an olive green that made it look vaguely military, and had to laugh at that. I walked around, tried to find some of the places we haunted, but like the Fillmore everything was gone. Troubadour and I went outside again a few days later and we turned south, bound for Santa Barbara and, finally, Avalon.

Off the casino, in that shockingly blue water, it felt like a spring day fifty years gone. LA in the distance, still lost under a blanket of brown haze. Sparkling sunlight dancing on the water, a few dozen sailboats at anchor with a cool breeze blowing out from Long Beach. The hand on the outboard’s tiller is mine but I don’t recognize the skin on those fingers, but that’s about the only thing I can see that’s changed.

Even Troubadour looks unchanged. The same white hull, the same blue cove stripe, the varnish still gleaming. A few details have changed, to keep up with technology, perhaps, but she looks ready for the next fifty years. And who knows, maybe she is. Maybe she’s in that same petrified forest me and Pops were stuck in, right after he married Terry. I turned away from my feelings, turned away and looked outbound, away from all my yesterdays. I went out looking for a Terry of my own and I found Troubadour instead. Funny how life takes you places you never thought you’d go. Maybe love is the funniest thing there is.

I heard the Grumman fly over the harbor and I turned, watched it line up into the wind and land on the water just off the point, and it taxied into the harbor, pulled up next to the float off the town dock and helping hands tied the seaplane off. A moment later girls started pouring out of the old Goose, my girls, all five of them, and Niki. I came at them through the anchorage and Tracy saw me first. They turned as one, like fish turning in unison, and they waved at me. The children of three women – and me. Sisters…what a thought. All so different – all the same. Mine. All of bound together by our time on Troubadour, by the journeys we shared. By the Time we spent together.

I have a new inflatable now, still too small for all these girls to cram into so as I hopped up on the float, and after we hugged each other to death I turned the Zodiac over to Tracy and let her run three of her sisters out to Troubadour, then come back for the rest of us. She is the oldest and, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the steadiest of the girls. Starting her second year of medical school soon; she, of course, plans on going into psychiatry. She leaves, and Deni and Niki and I stand there in the morning sun, breathing in the new day, same as the old day…

“You know,” Niki said, “I’ve never been out here before. Funny how far away LA feels.”

“None of you have,” I said, “but this is where it all started. My love for sailing, my love for Tracy’s mother.” I turned, pointed at an old corner restaurant. “Right there, as a matter of fact, and more than fifty years ago. Time has been kind to this old place. Change never rooted in here.”

“How’s Troubadour?” Deni asked. She was my secret favorite, of course. She was singing, learning to play the guitar now, after mastering the piano by the time she was five. Kind of like her old man, if you know what I mean.

“Kind of like me, Deni. Old, but serviceable.”

We smiled at one another; Niki looked at me and came over, slipped under my arm. Deni came too and we hugged until Tracy made her way back through the anchorage. We loaded up and rode through the morning, lever looking back.

Coda

We sailed to Newport Beach, to where Troubadour was born, and I had her hauled. Her hull needed attention now, her gelcoat was tired and cracked, so she was due for a facelift – and maybe another engine, too. It was funny if only because one of the guys who helped build Troubadour was the owner of the yard now, and he remembered me, and Troubadour. We got caught up on her travels and he kind of teared up when he realized what I was telling him. That his hands helped create something so strong and vital, and so important to all of us.

Then we made our way to the Beverly Hills Hotel, to two bungalows out back, and after they were settled in I walked over to the house. Terry was waiting for me, of course. Still the most beautiful woman in the world, she looks half my age now, most people mistake her for fifty. I never fail to get weak in the knees when I come into our room and see her laid out in her lingerie and heels, and today was no different.

I’m going to give Troubadour to the girls tonight, when we meet up for dinner. Shelly drew it up a long time ago, one of the last things she did for me, and I think it only fitting now. They all live in Auckland, have been Kiwis all their lives, and they’ll have to get Troubadour home, somehow, to keep the journey alive, to keep keep me alive in them. To keep reaching, moving outbound, moving into the light, into the music of our lives. I know they’ll begin the journey in Avalon, but of course I wonder what they’ll find out there…?

And I see, in the dimness, that Terry is wearing black tonight, which means that goddamn bullwhip is lurking under the sheets somewhere. Oh…the things we do to keep our women happy…

© 2017 | adrian leverkühn | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

OutBound (WIP conclusion)

So, wrapping up the story this morning, this last fragment still not proofed so you’ll find lots more flubber to laugh at. I’ll wrap up Elemental Mysteries this week, and clean this up too, post a unified version later next week. Awful, sleepless night, pain meds not doing their job, mood dark. I wonder how that affects what I write…what I’ll change when the pain is gone…? What music I’ll listen to…?

outbound 4 im

OutBound Part IV

She was wearing the deepest blue, blue – like her eyes.

Shocking electric blue lingerie. And she was so beautiful sprawled out on the bed. My sweat mingling with hers.

“God, I’ve missed you,” she whispered.

“I can’t keep doing this, Terry,” I cried. I can’t keep leaving you, wanting you and not having you. It’s going to kill me, and I’m afraid it might kill you too.”

“What’s happened, Aaron?”

I told her about Niki and she smiled.

“So, you think she wants to trap you?”

“What else could it be?”

“Hormones. Hormonally induced insecurity. She wants to be loved right now, to be spoon fed love until that baby comes, but be careful; by then she won’t have any left to give you.”

“What should I do?”

“Give me your cock.”

And she worked me back to life – and I fell inside her again, like Lucifer falling through the clouds. Her physical perfection was all that I craved, her seared emotional landscape the only place left where life made any kind of sense. Her blue silk legs cradling my face, licking the sides of her feet while I arced into her, electric need spilling between us in endless electron flows, and when her trembling began again I turned to pure, solid spasm and yes, my seed drifted within her honey – again.

Her hands on my face, she is licking me. Her legs have wrapped around me and she is pulling me inward again. I am on my hands over her now, breathing hard, sweat falling again and all I feel is this liquid warmth between us. My spreading seed, her encasing flows all mingling now.  Her hands coaxing me down, my lips to hers, all warm breath as tongues join, as I feel my skin so perfectly mated to hers. We fit. Together. Perfectly.

She is moving under me again, trembling anew. I feel it in her thighs, then inside her, and she has hands inside her womb milking me. Something inside grasping me, pulling me, forcing every drop of need from my body – into hers.

“I love you so,” she whispers.

I am shaking my head, now totally aware there is only one woman I’ll ever truly love, and she is here, under me, and I feel so ashamed. A deceiver. Only the one person I have deceived the most is me. My deceptions have led these other women on, inward into unjustified hope. Maybe I would burn in Hell if only I believed in such things, but for now I will burn inside Terry McKay – and let the rest of the world look away. The world can burn away without me now – just please, leave me inside Terry.

“I can’t spend another day without you by my side,” I said.

– And she looked away.

A telling look. The kind that makes you think about the handwriting on the wall.

“I’ve met someone, Aaron. I’m leaving soon, for England. I may not be back, as a matter of fact.”

“Really? What was this, then? My goodbye fuck?”

“No, I love you, but I wasn’t sure I could go on like this. So I, well, I started to look for options.”

“And you’ve found one?”

“I think so.”

“It’s what you want?”

“No, it isn’t. Not really.”

“But you’re going to anyway?”

“Yes, I think so. Because I think it’s what you need, too. Get me out of your system, put these dalliances out of reach, someplace where you can’t easily get to me. Take care of Jennie and Tracy – and Niki, too.”

“Maybe you weren’t listening just now. You know, the part where I can’t live without you?”

“You can. And you will.”

“So, marry me, Terry. Stay with me. Let’s finish this thing together. See where life takes us, you and me.”

She shook her head, smiled at me. “I’ve got to let you grow up now, Aaron. Let you live up to the burden of your responsibilities. These are your children, Aaron, not mine, and not ours. You’re going to have to face that. That you are a father. That people depend on you.”

“And then what? I die inside – I die every day we’re apart?”

“You raise your kids. You give them all the love I know you can. You teach them music, you teach them to paint. You love Jennie, maybe not like you’ve loved me, but you love her. You be a mensch, not a nobody.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Aaron? If you need me, as a friend, I’ll be there.”

I shook my head, looked at her like she’d just knifed me in the gut, then I stood, held out my hand and helped her up. We held hands as we walked to the shower, and I bathed her, now trying to program the feel of her through our wet skin. While she dressed I noticed all her clothes are gone from her closet, and I know she’ll be leaving soon. While I’m drying off I hear the phone and go to take the call, and it’s Shelly.

“So, you’re in?”

“I am.”

“Meeting at MCA, ten in the morning. Iron out the contract. I think I got you good terms.”

“How’d you make out from the concert?”

“Amazing.”

“So, I made some money too?”

“You didn’t get me statement?”

“Nope.”

“I’ll bring it along with me tomorrow, but you did well, Aaron. Pops would be proud.”

“So, where’s Niki?”

“At the Beverly Hills. Registered as Rooster Cogburn, if you want to call her.”

“Ah.”

“Yeah. Original, isn’t it?”

“Right. Well, I’ll see you in the morning.”

When I turned around Terry was nowhere to be seen. Her car was gone, too, and the only thing she’d left was her lingerie and heels. I went to the kitchen and got a Baggie and put her things in the bag and sealed it shut, then walked around the house looking at her life – and Pop’s – spread out among all the little things in the house. The place was, I saw, more a museum now that any kind of home, and I walked down to the studio, now wide awake despite the hour. I looked around the studio and my keyboards, then the phone rang and I walked over and picked it up.

“You’re going to be okay,” Terry said.

“Am I?”

“The spare key to the car is on the kitchen table; it’s parked in the garage opposite International Departures, building 7, third floor, space C79. Do you have something to write with?”

“Yup.”

She read out a phone number, where she’d be in London, and I committed the number to memory. “If that changes, I’ll leave word with Shelly.”

“Okay.”

“Aaron? Don’t ever think I did this because I’ve fallen out of love with you. I haven’t. I can’t. But we can’t go on like this, can we?”

“Marry me, Terry. Stay with me.”

“Call me in a few months. Do the right thing, Aaron. Not for me, but for all of us.”

Then the line went dead and I sighed, looked at the numbers on the paper like they were a lifeline, and I sat down and looked around my studio again.

I’d be bringing this room back to life tomorrow, but could I – without Terry? Without her behind me?

What could I do without her?

I sat in the near dark thinking about what she really meant to me, and I knew she was right. Life would go in. I would write music without her. Good music. Maybe not great, but we’d see.

Then the phone rang again and I snatched it up: “Hello?”

“It’s me. Niki. Are you still up?”

“I slept on the plane.”

“Could I come over?”

“Sure. Door’s open, I’m downstairs.”

“Is it close enough? Could I walk?”

“You could, but it’s not something I’d recommend at three in the morning, not it LA.”

“Don’t you have a car there?”

“No. Terry left it at the airport – I’ve got to run out and get it.”

“What?”

“Terry left.”

“For good?”

“Sounds that way.”

“I’ll be right there,” she said, hanging up the phone.

And sure enough, I heard the front door shut about ten minutes later, then heard her coming down the stairs and into the studio. I was still sitting, inert, in the darkness. Still think about life after Terry – and she came right to me and sat, took me in her arms and cradled me.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt too burned up inside for tears, for much of anything, but Niki got that…

“How’s the baby?” I asked after a bit.

“Good.”

“You been writing any songs?”

“I tried, but I’m not sure I know how, really. I think I’ll rely on you this time out. Maybe teach me the basics, how you go about it.”

“Got any lyrics yet?”

“Yeah. Ten songs I think are okay. A few that aren’t.”

“Oh? We’ll look at those first. Got ‘em with you?”

“I brought everything with me.”

“Yeah?”

“I wanted…could I move in with you?”

I thought for a minute, then nodded my head. “Yeah, sure.”

Terry was right. Niki was insecure. She needed love. And in the end, I was sure there’d be nothing left for me – but what the fuck, ya know? What the fuck. I couldn’t do this alone.

+++++

I tried to pretend Niki was Terry, that Niki could be my muse, but the energy was different. Not wrong, but different. Niki was a hot, wet towel draped over my face, suffocating, maybe, after the initial surge of comfort. Her lyrics were inconsequential, too, mid-western white bread. Empty love songs, all longing without purpose.

She liked country music, the real old southern country stuff, and she liked rock, but she was trying to blend the two without any idea of the structure she wanted. Creating something new out of the two forms was going to be tricky at best, because country music wasn’t structured like rock, not in those days. Also, there was a fairly generous antipathy between Southern Country and the rest of the music world. Yet that’s where she wanted to go, into shallow, uncharted waters.

So it would have to be soft-rock infused country music, a commercialized amalgam of styles I’d never tried before. I wasn’t even sure why she wanted me to help her with this, as there were others who could take her into these waters a lot better than I. Still, she like to curl on the bed, and she even got into the whole lingerie and heels thing too, which was odd. Like she wanted to be Terry McKay, but could never be. She wanted to be sexy, and she tried to be without realizing sexy is not something you can try to be. You either are or you are not, and she wasn’t.

And that was a problem, too. She wanted to project sex in her album, which meant photoshoots for the album art would have to project sex, but who the devil thought sex would appeal to the Southern Country audience?

Well, color me wrong.

MCA hired a photographer who normally shot wide open spaces for the likes of Penthouse, and with makeup artists in tow, they worked for two days getting just the right look. Kind of Nashville’s idea of a cowboy’s hooker from hell, with no pubes or nipples and just a little symbolism to placate the Baptist set, the image reflected what I thought would be the best song of the lot, a mushy ballad called Rocking Chair. The engineers thought my Mellotrons and Moogs sounded a little too insincere so I yanked those out and inserted a seventy piece orchestra into the mix, to the tune of about 20 grand at union scales, but it sounded nice. When the single of Rocking Chair was sent to country stations around LA for a tryout it shot to number one in two days.

Then Jennie called.

“You ever coming home?”

“Yeah. We should wrap it up inside a week.”

“How’s Terry?”

“She’s gone. Left for London, for good.”

A long pause followed, then: “How’s Niki?”

“She’s not Terry, so don’t worry.”

“She told Dad she’s pregnant. Any idea who the father is?”

“Nope. But nothing would surprise me. She’s gotten kinda popular out here.”

“What are you doing…for company?”

“Waiting to get back home.”

“Yeah? You? Playing it all faithful?”

“Am I that bad?”

She laughed. “Aaron, you’re a four-wheel drive cock. Always on the go.”

I laughed at that. “Wow. Now that’s an image.”

“I don’t know why I love you, but I do.”

“Yeah? Well, I love you, and I know why.”

“Oh, yeah? Why?”

“I’ll show you when I get home.”

“Promises, promises.”

“How’s Tracy?”

“Eating like a horse. Asking about you.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah. She needs her daddy.”

“I need her, too. How’s the spud?”

“She’s kicking a lot. I think she wants to get out, go for a walk on the beach.”

“Maybe I should get a bigger house, one I could put a studio in, ya know?”

“If that means you stay here more, I’m all for it.”

“This stuff with Niki might take off. Her first single is going to be big.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“This is exciting…!”

“Unexpected, but I think we make an interesting team. Kind of like Electric Karma meets Hank Williams, Jr.”

She laughed again. “Oh, gawd…”

“Yeah, driving me nuts. Deni would kill me, but it’s a challenge, in a good way. Stepping outside my comfort zone…learning a lot.”

And I was. That was the funny thing about it. Even the western musicians who came over to the studio had something to teach, and they learned stuff from me, too. Because in the end we were musicians, just trying to tell the stories, ya know?

Once we wrapped up the sessions we sent the tapes over to Burbank and waited for the word, and Niki went seriously Terry on me, nasty lingerie and nasty talk, and that night the L-word started slipping into her conversation more and more. I guess it had to happen. The thing is, I was starting to have real feelings for her too. I was gentle with her that night, like I didn’t want to give the baby a rough ride, but I felt a tenderness towards her I hadn’t felt before, too. The way I held her face, kissed her. The way she took me in her mouth, the way she hungrily told me she wanted it all. The way she swallowed, then looked up at me.

The guys at MCA were effusive the next morning, and there was talk of a concert deal.

“Count me out, guys,” I said. “I’ve got kids to take care of.”

So yeah, a studio musician could take my place on the road, no big deal, but with Niki starting to show concerts weren’t what she needed to be setting out to do.

“Maybe after the baby,” she said, and the studio reluctantly agreed.

So, I picked up the house, called an interior decorator and when the gal came over I told her I wanted the house redone, completely – “Just leave my studio functionally alone,” then Niki and I packed up and left for Auckland.

Jennie knew, of course, by then. I don’t know how, maybe Niki told her, but no doubt she could see it in her sister’s eyes, too. Yet it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was back in the same bedroom with her and that was all that seemed to matter. I found a nice place on Mellons Bay and started work on a bigger studio, met with an architect to get the project going, met with a musician’s group and a few local politicians, outlined plans for a few new albums to see if I’d have community support, then I turned my attention to Troubadour.

She’d been neglected, and it showed, but the damage was cosmetic and easily fixed. I started taking Tracy out several times a week, getting her used to the motion, and Jennie asked if she could come and I was adamant: not until after the baby. Same with Niki, for that matter.

Michelle was born that autumn, well, it was spring down there, and with her mother’s reddish-blond curls she was gorgeous, a real green eyed lady. Granma Michelle came down to spend a month with us, and that turned into four months – but only because the weather was so damn nice. Uh-huh, right.

But Granma Michelle also picked up on the Niki vibe. She was lady enough to not ask about it, but I could see the awareness of us in her eyes. I was also the one behind her oldest daughter’s sudden stardom, her debut album shooting up the country charts and earning her daughter some serious money, so maybe she didn’t want to rock the boat, or maybe she just didn’t understand – whatever – she was polite to me, but that was all. And that was enough, for me. I couldn’t help who I was any more than I could stop Niki or Jennie from feeling about me the way they did, and everyone was copacetic about things so there wasn’t any point in rocking the boat, was there?

In the end, I was father to all their grandkids, but Tracy, and they considered Tracy their’s too.

Which brings us full circle, to Jenn. Poor Jenn.

Her father had what was reported as a massive heart a few days after Jenn was released from the psychiatric hospital in Laguna, and I think, from what I was able to gather from news reports, she finally broke him down and tore him apart. That was the official version, anyway. So yeah, then I got a call from Shelly later that night, and she told me that I needed to come up to LA on the double, and that it had something to do with Jenn.

“Should I bring Tracy?”

“Not this time,” Shelly said – cautiously.

“You mean, like I need to run to the airport right now?”

“Now would be good.”

She picked me up at the airport and we drove down to Newport Beach in near silence.

“What’s happened, Shelly?”

“Jenn, well, she shot her father.”

“She what?”

“Right in the main pump. He dropped to the ground, dead as a doornail. Her mother watched it go down, then ran out of the house. She’s in the ER, doped up and out of it, but she asked to see you. Won’t talk to the police until she talks to you first.”

“Fuck.”

“You got it.”

So I shut up the rest of the drive, tried to ignore the heavy traffic on the 405 – at two in the morning – and by the time we got to the hospital, and to the room where she was “under observation” – I was really in a funk.

She shot him? I kept saying over and over.

A detective was there, waiting, and he went in with us after I’d been searched for weapons and drugs. Jenn was wide-eyed, staring out the window at Newport Harbor, and she turned to me, slowly, when we came in.

Her hands were cuffed to the bed, her eyes bloodshot, an angry red.

“I wasn’t going to let him hurt me anymore,” she said. “Not again.”

I pulled a chair up to her bed, took her hand. “I know. Something had to give, didn’t it?”

“He kept talking about getting Tracy back. So he could love her the way he loved me. I couldn’t let him do it, Aaron.”

The detective leaned over. “The way he loved you? How was that, Miss?”

Jenn ignored the cop, just looked into my eyes. “Jenn, you’ve got to tell someone. No one will understand until you do. You’ve got to tell me, at least…”

“He wanted to fuck her like he used to fuck me.”

“When did he start doing that to you, Jenn?” I asked.

“Always. He did it as far back as I can remember…”

We talked about it some more, but really, what was the point. That was what she wanted me to know. Then I asked her one more question: “What do you want me to tell Tracy?”

“Don’t tell her about me. She’ll never remember, anyway, but don’t you ever tell her about me. I don’t want anyone to remember me like this…”

“Look, if you change your mind, want to see her…”

“No!” she screamed. “Go away – now! I don’t ever want to see you again…”

Newport Beach’s finest escorted me from the room, and I talked with the detective for a while, and besides learning he was an Electric Karma fan I told him all I knew, and about the custody hearing a few years back, and that was that. Shelly drove me back to Foothill Road, and after I got my bags out of the trunk I walked around to thank her, then walked up to the house.

Lights were on, music was playing gently in the background and I turned, looked at Shelly. She looked at me and smiled, then drove off.

The door was open so I walked in, followed the music to the bedroom, found Terry laying there in her latex catsuit, a minor bullwhip already in hand, ready for her next performance.

We did not come up for air for days.

We went to Gladstone’s for soup and shrimp when we finally emerged. She’d had enough of London, she told me. Enough of life without me. Without California, too. When Shelly called and told her about Jenn she called British Caledonian and was on her way. I didn’t ask any questions, just told her I was happy to have her back in my life. Because I was. I called Jennie, told her what had happened, and that I’d hang around here to finish up work on the house, be back in Auckland as soon as I could. But yeah, the work was done, the house looked cool and the bedroom serene, but we didn’t get out of the room much after that day. We lived in a state of pure fuck, pure, nonstop fuck, like two shipwrecked people just plucked from their deserted island and turned loose on a Sunday brunch buffet.

“Should I stay here?” she asked me at one point. “Or should I go to Moorea?”

“You’re Commonwealth. Come to Auckland.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

+++++

And so began the most exhilarating time of my life.

The next seven years were astonishing. Raising kids, and I do mean kids, as Jennie and I had Rebecca two years after Michelle, and after Niki gave birth to Deni – and yeah, I know, but it had to happen – I gave her Victoria. I took the girls sailing together all the time, the babies and their mothers, and when I wasn’t tied up with them Terry tied me up with her whips and chains. I was surrounded every waking moment by three women who loved me completely, and then I had five girls whom I doted on – completely. Niki and I produced three more albums in that span, each better received than the one before, and, near the end of that time Jennie decided she might try for her MD.

Then all sorts of things started turning sour.

The first? Warren, working at the clinic on Moorea, simply stood up from a chair and clutched his chest, said “Oh, my,” on his way to the floor – and he was gone. Just like that. Except he was with me and Tracy when that happened. I called Jennie, in Auckland, and she hopped on a flight to Papeete with Niki and the girls. Michelle was devastated, and even Terry was, too.

I was left to settle Warren’s affairs, and he declared he wanted a chapel built on the island, and he’d left funds to make it happen. No one was surprised how many lives he’d touched, or how many who came to the dedication of the chapel, but his ashes were interred there, as I mentioned earlier, and everyone was there for the service – even Terry, who Warren fantasized about ‘til the end.

A year later Jennie found a lump in her left breast, and lets just say treatments were not as effective in the early 80s as they are now. She fought it for a little over a year and everyone was with her at the end, but she wasn’t ready and she fought it. I didn’t know you could fight death like that, the way she did. She was scared, and angry, said it wasn’t her time, then she screamed and literally started to pass, then crawled back to life, only to get hysterical and start the struggle again. That lasted a day and it was horrifying to watch, but in the end it didn’t make any difference, and we carried her ashes to Moorea to rest with her father’s.

The girls, all of them, were as shattered as I by her passing, but what left me reeling was the thought that we never got to finish our trip together. On Troubadour. And yet the little boat was still sitting down there on the water, waiting for my return. Then I heard that Jenn had finally succeeded, in a psychiatric prison. I didn’t hear how she did it, only that she had finally succeeded, and I was left to reconcile the two of them, my two Jennifers. One doomed to a life of hell, the other doomed to a life too short. One who’d had too much life, too soon, and one who’d never get enough – linked to me through Tracy, now and forever.

And so it was Tracy who first went to sea with me, to finish Jennie’s voyage. We sailed up to Moorea, then to Hawaii, when she was nine years old, when she was already a good sailor. Michelle was next. She wanted to see Japan, the temples and castles around Kyoto, and we spent a year on Troubadour exploring the Sea of Japan. She dove with the Ama and we walked mountain trails alive with cherry blossoms, and we took hundreds of pictures of temples. When we got back to Auckland we started painting everything we remembered. Rebecca was next, and we sailed from Japan north to Alaska, then down the coast of North America, to Newport Beach, and Troubadour had a homecoming there. I re-powered her there, replaced her rigging and her sails, then Michelle rejoined us and we sailed her back along the track of our original voyage, from San Diego to Nuku Hiva, Papeete and Auckland.

I thought about selling Troubadour then, but Niki wanted her girls to experience life at sea, with me, so Deni and Victoria and I set sail for Australia when they were 14 and 12, then we pushed on to Cape Town, South Africa, before getting on the conveyor ride back to New Zealand. Niki wanted to take a trip with me, so we sailed up to Moorea and visited her father and Jennie in their garden. She flew home and I sailed south. It wasn’t long until Victoria left for college, and I, now in my mid-fifties, took Terry, now in her mid sixties, to London – and we finally did the deed, got married.

And she still cleaned my clock, her love still left me breathless and feeling more alive than was humanly possible. We left London and returned to LA, and we decided it was time to put the place in New Zealand on the market, and that was one of the last projects Shelly oversaw for me. She passed a year after the house sold, a year after Terry and I set sail from Auckland, two drifters headed out to see the world, outbound to see what we could see. My huckleberry friend.

We sailed from Auckland to Australia, she and I, then on to the Yemen. We transited the Suez, sailed to Greece, then Sardinia. She turned into a goddess in Porto, on Corsica, and we made it on the beach – for the first time in our lives without lingerie. We stopped in Gibraltar, spend a week getting some skin cancers cut out, then we crossed to the BVI and, eventually, two years later, we transited the Panama Canal and sailed on to Hawaii, technically completing a circumnavigation somewhere along the way.

Terry fell in Honolulu, hurt her hip so we flew home to LA and I let her recuperate for a year while I wrote my first serious classical work. I filed it away for posterity when it was done, for after I was gone. Maybe someone would play it someday, but that would be for the girls to decide, not me. I did write one more Electric Karma album, and I called it Troubadour. The last of the San Francisco clan came to the house and we worked on it for three months, then Niki came and filled in the vocals, with Deni helping – everything coming full circle on the master recording.

Troubadour fell into disuse again, languished in Hawaii for two years before I returned to her and worked her over one more time. When she was perfect again when we left, alone this time, for a last voyage to California.

As Jenn and her father once had, I arced north towards Alaska, then cut east for Vancouver and picked up the currents that pulled me home. I bypassed Seattle and made for the Golden Gate, spent a week walking Berkeley, found Deni’s purple paisley house had been painted an olive green that made it look vaguely like a military barracks, and I had a laugh at that little irony. I walked around, tried to find some of the places we haunted, but like the Fillmore everything was gone. Troubadour and I went outside again a few days later and we turned south, bound for Santa Barbara and, finally, Avalon.

Off the casino, in that shockingly blue water, it felt like a spring day fifty years gone. LA in the distance, still lost under a blanket of brown haze. Sparkling sunlight dancing on the water, a few dozen sailboats at anchor with a cool breeze blowing out from Long Beach. The hand on the outboard’s tiller is mine but I don’t recognize the skin on those fingers, but that’s about the only thing I can see that’s changed.

Even Troubadour looks unchanged. The same white hull, the same blue cove stripe, her varnish still gleaming. A few details have changed, to keep up with technology, perhaps, but she looks ready for the next fifty years. And who knows, maybe she is. Maybe she’s in that same petrified forest me and Pops were stuck in, right after he married Terry. I turned away from my feelings after that, turned away and looked outbound, away from all my yesterdays. I went out looking for a Terry of my own and found my way to Troubadour instead. Funny how life takes you places you never thought you’d go. Maybe love is the funniest thing there is, the places you go following love.

I heard the Grumman fly over the harbor and turned, watched it line up with the wind and land on the water just off the point, and it taxied into the harbor, pulled up next to the float off the town dock and helping hands tied it off. A moment later girls started pouring out of the old Goose, my girls, all five of them, and Niki too. I came at them through the anchorage and Tracy saw me first. They turned as one, like fish turning in unison, and they waved at me. The children of three women – and me. Sisters…what a thought. All so different – all the same. Mine. All bound together by our time in Troubadour, by the journeys we shared. By the Time we shared.

I have a new inflatable now, still too small for all these girls to cram into, so as I hopped up on the float, after we hugged each other to death, I turned the Zodiac over to Tracy and let her run three of her sisters out to Troubadour, then come back for the rest of us. She is the oldest and, as I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the steadiest of the girls. Starting her second year of medical school soon; she, of course, plans on going into psychiatry. She left Deni and Niki and I standing there in the morning sun, breathing in the new day, same as any other day out here…

“You know,” Niki said, “I’ve never been out here before. Funny how far away LA feels.”

“None of you have,” I said, “but this is where it all started. My love for sailing, my love for Tracy’s mother.” I turned, pointed at an old corner restaurant. “Right there, as a matter of fact, and more than fifty years ago. Time has been kind to this old place. Change never took root out here.”

“How’s Troubadour?” Deni asked. She was my secret favorite, of course. She was singing, learning to play the guitar now, after mastering the piano by the time she was five. Kind of like her old man, if you know what I mean.

“Kind of like me, Deni. Old, but serviceable.”

We smiled at one another; Niki looked at me and came over, slipped under my arm. Deni came too and we hugged until Tracy made her way back through the anchorage. We loaded up and road through the morning, lever looking back.

Coda

We sailed to Newport Beach, to where Troubadour was born, and I had her hauled – again. Her hull needed attention now, her gelcoat was tired and cracked, so she was due for a facelift – and maybe another engine, too. It was funny if only because one of the guys who helped build Troubadour was the owner of the yard now, and he remembered me, and Troubadour, and the day she was born. We got caught up on her travels and he kind of teared up when he realized what I was telling him. That his hands helped create something so strong and vital, and so important to all of us.

Then we made our way to the Beverly Hills Hotel, to two bungalows out back, and after they were settled in I walked over to the house. Terry was waiting for me, of course. Still the most beautiful woman in the world, she looks half my age now, most people mistake her for fifty. I never fail to get weak in the knees when I come into our room and see her laid out in her lingerie and heels, and today was no different.

I’m going to give Troubadour to the girls tonight, when we meet up for dinner. Shelly drew up the transfer a long time ago, one of the last things she did for me, and I think it only fitting now. They all live in Auckland, have been Kiwis all their lives, and they’ll have to get Troubadour home, somehow, to keep the journey alive, to keep me alive in them. To keep reaching, moving outbound, moving into the light, into the music of our lives. I know they’ll begin the journey in Avalon, but of course I wonder what they’ll find out there…beyond our common horizon?

And I see, in the dimness, that Terry is wearing black today, which means that goddamn bullwhip is lurking under the sheets somewhere. Oh…the things we do to keep our women happy…

© 2017 | adrian leverkühn | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

OutBound (second fragment)

Sometimes writing is all there is…ignore all the rest and keep at it. Still just bare storytelling – no proofing or other editing.

OutBound 2

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.

“Pardon?”

“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.”

“Oh?”

“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.

“Nuku Hiva.”

“When you leavin’?”

“In the morning.”

“Want some company?”

“Have a passport?”

“Yes.”

“Maybe you ought to drop by after you get off tonight.”

“Okay.”

Surreal? I know.

Stupid? Probably.

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.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“Okay.”

“Does that mean what I hope it means?”

“Yes.”

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.

Yeah. Surreal.

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?

“Yes.”

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?

Silly, huh?

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.”

“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.”

“Well, don’t.”

“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.”

“Me too.”

“So, how’s LA?”

“The same, only worse.”

“Oh?”

“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.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah. 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

OutBound (WIP/fragment 17 April ’17)

So, it turns out the past few days have been spent in a small room not of my choosing. BUT I had my faithful MacBookPro and wifi…and what else does a writer need? A sexier nurse would be nice, but here’s 25 pages of completely unedited text, not even one attempt at proofreading. Raw, I think you’d say. I may be home in a week or so, so I’ll continue working on this, as well as the last chapter of Elemental Mysteries.

outbound

OutBound

I’m sitting in my little inflatable, puttering through the anchorage off the town of Avalon, California, and it all looks so familiar. The beach is not quite a hundred feet away, the old casino still majestically presides over the harbor – now, and as it has all my life. The water below is still clear and deep blue, the white sandy bottom visible forty feet down, as relentlessly clear and full of promise now as it was in the late 60s. Nothing appears to have changed all that much out here, even my boat. Troubadour, my Alajuela 38, has seen a few miles under her keel, true enough, but she’s been in good hands all her life. My hands, as a matter of fact. And I’m looking at those hands as I ride through the anchorage off Avalon, the same hands that have cared for that boat over the last fifty years. My hands have changed a lot, and there are days I hardly recognize them, but when those moments find me I wonder what happened to time.

I remember looking at my grandfather’s hands once and wondering what all those brown spots were. Why his fingernails were kind of yellow and ridged. He had scars all over them, most from cuts he’d sewn up himself. He’d dip a needle and thread in whiskey and just sew himself up, and he didn’t think anything of it. It was what you did to stop the bleeding, so he did it and moved on to the next chore, which was what I did – more or less – over the years. Now, looking at my hand on the outboard motor’s tiller I recognized those hands again. They were mine, in a way, but they were my grandfather’s, too.

We sat and watched the Petrified Forest one night, that movie with Bogart and Davis, and he told me about his trip west in 1916. How there weren’t highways, not even a through road. He had a car, God knows how he afforded it, but he and my grandmother made the trip west together – from northeast Texas to Los Angeles. A few cities had paved streets but by and large the roads that connected cities were primitive affairs, often little more than sandy tracks through desert scrub. With the hard, narrow tires that cars had in those days, the wheels sunk down in the sand so deep that drive shafts were worn down by the mud and the sand, and he had to replace two solid steel shafts between El Paso and Flagstaff. Just polished down to nothing, worn down by the miles. Took them almost two weeks to make the trip, and he admitted to me that night he should have taken the train and bought a car once he got to LA, but that wasn’t my grandfather’s ethos. He wanted to get out there in the world, smell the road, meet people along the way and maybe have some fun and get in trouble too, because that’s what life was all about. I guess he passed that on to me, for better or worse, but I bought Troubadour and sailed away.

I didn’t plan things that way, however. Things just kind of happened.

The way things kind of happen. Unexpected things, the kind of people you never thought you’d run into, not in a million years. Doing things I never wanted to do, going places that held no interest to me. Life for me, before Troubadour, had been like the first thirty seconds of a roller coaster ride, the part where the ratcheting chain hauls you up the first huge incline. I was in the lead car right about then, looking out at the world during that little pause, just before the car takes off down that first steep drop. There’s this moment of anticipation, then a little exhilaration – soon followed by a dawning awareness that life might be far more interesting elsewhere, anywhere else than on a roller coaster. I never felt it in that moment before the fall, but about half way through my ride I began to develop an appreciation for smooth bicycles on warm country roads.

Which, I think, makes Troubadour all the more ironic. Troubadour has been a nonstop roller coaster ride, yet she’s like an old friend now. I know her aches and pains, her ups and downs, as well as I know my own – yet what makes that such an off-putting idea is she’s not flesh and bones. She’s a boat. A boat that became my life.

+++++

I started playing the piano in kindergarten, maybe a little before. I was pretty good too, for a five year old. My teacher, a crusty old man who kept a regal old Steinway grand in his music room, seemed to think I had talent, but I was always more interested in composing music, not playing. And not to make to big a deal about it, but I always hated performing in front of people. My first recital was a disaster, and that set the stage for many more over the years, and I think my reaction to that first trembling moment paved the way for Troubadour. I do okay one on one, or even with a people, but if you put me in a venue with hundreds of people I come undone. Just can’t do it, if you know what I mean. It’s not stage fright…it’s stage catatonia.

Anyway, some time in junior high a bunch of really hip kids decided to form a band. Mind you, these guys were like twelve years old and had never played an instrument in their lives, but two of them got electric guitars for Christmas and started banging out the four-chord progression of Louie-Louie, while one of them got a massive Ludwig drum set – because that’s what Ringo was using, don’t you know – and they needed someone who could play bass. Well, I could. I was playing both the acoustic bass and guitar by that point, and my grandfather had a massive pipe organ in his house that I had been playing for years, so I had that one under my belt by then too.

At any rate, they convinced me to join them and I guess you could say I taught them how to play their instruments over the next year. One of the kids, Pete, was a soulful guy who liked writing poetry and was getting decent on the drums, and he started putting lyrics to the music in his head and he’d share his musings with us and somehow real music started taking shape.

I looked back on those first compositions of ours as something really special, the wonder of coming of age condensed into two and a half minutes of pre-pubescent wailings about acne and nocturnal emissions. We were twelve, you see, yet even then sex had become the center of our existence, and we were pegged to play at our school’s Spring Dance the last weekend of our last year there. We had a couple of our own pieces to play but by and large we were set to grind out a bunch of Beatles and Stones songs, with me doing double duty on bass and keyboards.

I was, of course, terrified.

Not only were there several hundred people at that dance, I knew each and every one of them. I had chewed my fingernails down to bleeding stumps by the time we were set to take the stage, and I found that the only way I could play was to turn my back to the dance floor – so I did. For two hours I rocked and rolled and I didn’t have the slightest idea anyone else was out there, and when it was finally all over with I packed my stuff and went home – and vowed I’d never do anything like that ever again.

We were, of course, invited to participate in a local ‘battle of the bands’ contest to be held in early July, and we needed two songs of our own in order to be contestants so were turned Pete’s composition into something really special while I cobbled together something generic and altogether bland for our second entry and we practiced and practiced until we were blue in the face – then it was time to set up our instruments on what was indeed a really BIG stage.

“How many people are going to be here?” I asked one of the promoters.

“Oh, last year we had almost two thousand, but we’ve sold five thousand tickets so far…”

My knees were knocking by the time they announced us, but I turned the organ so I faced away from the lights and we launched into Pete’s soliloquy – a soothing, polished love song that just sounded silly when five twelve year olds sang it, but the girls out there loved it and they went wild.

Then we slipped right into ‘Lucy-Goosey’ – my hastily contrived fluff piece, and we brought down the house. We won, too. The contest, and we picked up a recording contract – with Lucy on the A side and Pete’s soliloquy on the flip side. The 45 sold a half million copies before we were in high school and as I was the songwriter listed on Lucy the lions share came to me.

And that was the end of that.

I haven’t mentioned my parents because, well, they died when I was young, like three years old. An airplane crash, a jetliner taking off from Mexico City, and really, I haven’t the slightest memory of either of them. I lived with my father’s father and his second wife, and I grew up in Beverly Hills. They were show business types, he a producer and she an actress of some repute, and I grew up around Hollywood types, lots of famous people I guess you could say, but my upbringing left me with a different sense of proportion. If people saw glamorous stars and western heroes, I saw sullen, moody drunks sitting by the pool out back – all fawning over my ‘grandmother’s’ legs. I mention all this only to add context to the sudden fame thrust on me after Lucy-Goosey went platinum later that summer.

I for my part, decided to concentrate on my classical compositions after that, which pissed a whole lot of people off, but I did all through high school and into college, and by that time what fame the song generated had all but slipped away – and I was grateful, because I considered the piece pure garbage.

So I went to Stanford unencumbered by that baggage, and studied composition and philosophy with no ends in mind – until a friend asked me to join a group he was putting together and it became more widely known that I had penned Lucy, once upon a time.

“I always wondered what happened to you,” Deni Dalton said, and that’s how we met, Deni and I. She had this smokey voice that seemed to seethe dark sexuality, and when she looked you in the eye I felt like a banana being peeled in the monkey house. Whatever protective layers I had on that day, say that look of smug condescension I liked to slip on from time to time, she cut through that crap like a hot scalpel through bloody fat. She was Music. She was bigger than life. I was in love, but then again everyone who laid eyes on her fell in love. She always wore black, too. Black hair and black eyes, heavy black makeup – she was Goth before there was such a thing.

And she had kind of a black heart, too. Mercenary, I guess. Not educated yet smart. She read people like others read books, and she had a nose for money, was always looking for the angle that would lead to fame and fortune. I think she took one look at me and saw her opening.

“Your Dad still with Universal?” she asked.

“My father died when I was three.”

“Aaron Dorsin? He’s not your pops?”

“My grandfather.”

“Oh, right. He’s still with Universal, ain’t he?”

“Last I heard.”

“Well, we’re looking for someone new on keys, and Luke says we should give a listen. So, I’m listening.”

We were in the living room of this run down three story house in Berkeley, and all there was in the room, besides a dozen or so people on a u-shaped sofa, was an old upright piano – and then one of the girls on the sofa went down on the guy sitting next to her.

So…I looked at her for a moment and started playing to her rhythm, then Deni caught where I was and she stood and started swaying to the music coming from the girl’s mouth. I was drifting between Bartok and Dave Evans until she hit the short strokes, then I just let the music flow for a while, a loose, swirling flow, and Deni came to me and kissed me for a long time, before she played a little music of her own.

And so began a very interesting time in my life. I like to think of it as my purple paisley patchouli period, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

+++++

It was a funky house, of that much I was certain. Channing Way was kind of an epicenter of seismic music in Berkeley for a few years back in the late sixties, and maybe Deni’s purple house was our ground zero. Her background was coffee house folk, kind of a dark California counterpoint to Paul Simon’s more upbeat New York vibe, and you might get that if irony is your thing. If Simon had inherited Gershwin, Deni had been mainlining Thelonius Monk for years – yet she felt like she was ready for bigger sounds. She wanted to create fat, epochal rock, anthems for a new generation already grown tired of Beatlemania. She didn’t want cool reflections, she wanted steamrollers and wrecking balls. Most of all, she didn’t want to play small clubs anymore. She wanted to hit college campuses and then, maybe, if she got lucky, move on to bigger and better things, but she saw rock and roll as a doorway, an entry into something really big and bold.

To me, as a keyboardist in 1968, big and bold meant synthesizers and mellotrons. Those two instruments, I surmised, might allow some of the more bombastic elements of classical forms to merge with the more simplistic forms of rock that seemed to be yearning for bombast – and like every other classically trained musician on the planet I realized Sgt Peppers had shown us the way to the door, while Pet Sounds had given us the courage to break on through to the other side. Martin and the Beatles began introducing classical motifs on Sgt Peppers, but it was Fixing A Hole that caught fire in Deni’s mind. The Beatles married the baroque to old English choral music and it was brilliant, but it wasn’t American. The Beatles were a Jaguar XK-E, something restrained and elegant, gorgeous yet full of unrealized potential; what Deni wanted a Shelby Cobra with glowing pipes, something untamed and unleashed, music that would overpower the soul and make people scream when elation overpowered sensibility.

She had cred in the music business, but not a lot, not the kind I’d had, anyway – but what I did have was my grandfather. He was fairly high up on the food chain at Universal, and their MCA Records division wanted to cash in on the exploding pop/rock business. We retreated into the house on Channing Way one February day and didn’t come out again until May, and three of us hopped in someone’s old VW Microbus and tooled down the 101 to Burbank and went to my grandfather’s office.

He was old then, seriously old, but he was also sharp as a tack. We walked in and he looked at us like we’d just crawled out from under a rock, which, I have to say wasn’t far from the truth.

“Aaron,” he asked when he quasi-recognized me, “is that you under there?”

You see, by 1968 my hair was hanging down somewhere south of my knees, and George Harrison’s beard had nothing on mine.

“Hey Pops,” I said, ‘Pops’ being my characteristic greeting. “We need a recording studio. I want to cut an album.”

I am not, you understand, one to waste time on idle chit-chat.

“Oh?” he said, with one raised eyebrow.

One eyebrow meant he was listening. Two meant you needed to start running for the door.

So I tossed our demo down on his desk, a big Tascam reel-to-reel spool, and he looked at it, then at Deni. And you have to understand this about Pops: he was only interested in her by this point. If she could sing, great, but she had great tits and I could see that working over in his mind – as in: she’ll look great on an album cover. He had no interest in her physically, only in the commercial appeal of Deni’s tits.

So he picks up his phone and dials an extension.

“Lou? Aaron’s here, and he has a demo. Can I send him up now?”

So off we went, off to see the wizard. A dozen people gathered and listened to our demo and we walked out an hour later with a recording contract. We hopped in the VW and drove back up the 101 in a blinding rainstorm, got back to the purple house a little after midnight – and Deni attacked me then. In a good way, if you know what I mean. We came up for air a few days later and the really interesting thing about that time is we both realized we were like heroin to one another. We were dangerously intoxicated when we mixed, so much so we knew we were in danger of losing ourselves, each to the other.

After those two days and nights together Deni dropped the whole Black Goth thing and went in for this deep purple paisley look. Flowing silk capes of purple, and the house began to reek of patchouli. Patchouli incense was burning 24/7, and she put patchouli oil in everything, notably the polish she used to wipe down her rosewood furniture. The scent wasn’t quite overpowering, but it was close, and the whole patchouli thing became indelibly linked to those months. I can’t not think of her when I run across that scent.

Anyway, we loaded up all our gear and ambled back to Burbank a week later, and we had several days booked to get the sound we wanted down on tape. I’ve since read books on musicians of that era, these being little more than monographs of artistic egoism run amok, and I shudder to think what would have happened to us if that had been the case. Instead, it seemed as if Deni and her mates knew this was their one big shot, and they had to get the job done this time or prepare to wait tables for the rest of their lives. We came together, in other words, and the results were something else.

We ended up spending a month in the studio, yet before we were finished MCA released a single that shot up the charts into the top-10, and on the strength of that alone they booked us to play three nights at the Universal Amphitheater later that summer – and I didn’t think anything about it at the time, maybe because I was so wrapped up in the moment.

Deni was a lyricist, a good one too, but she wasn’t quite what I’d have called an original. She listened to other recording artists all the time, listening for inspiration and ideas. New ways to spin a phrase, new transitions between parts of a song – yet she couldn’t read or write music, what’s called notation. She had an instinctual grasp of the inherent musical order within a phrase, but she couldn’t see structure when expressed in notes and chords. This wasn’t a big deal as I looked at the innate phrasing of her lyrical constructs and went from there, and as she wrote stuff she’d come and sing variations to me. Not a big deal, and most pop music is created that way these days, but it was a big move away from the classical paradigm – where arias were derived from the inherent structure within a passage of music.

An unknown named Elton John showed up while we were in the studio and he dropped by, listened for a while then disappeared, and I dropped by one of his sessions a few days later and was blown away by his exuberance, his showmanship – even in the studio. And it hit me then, my lump on a log stage mannerism. I was not and would never be an Elton John. He was an impressionist masterpiece, and I was a Dutch still life, destined to reside on the edge of the stage, the edge of the world, my back to the action – and I knew there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. As soon as the lights went up I began to freeze inside, like my mind was suddenly and completely encased in brittle ice.

So, the album was released and it was a bigger hit than even Pops thought it would be. And yes, there was lots of cleavage on the front cover. Purple paisley and cleavage. We played a few small gigs on Sunset and Hollywood, a few parties in the Hills of Beverly too, and we started mapping out our second album during that time, too. Then our first night at the Amphitheater came up and everything inside just kind of snapped. I couldn’t even walk out on stage for our practice session that afternoon, and for the first time what had been kind of a modest idiosyncrasy turned into a real liability. I looked at my mates looking at me and I knew they couldn’t understand…hell, I didn’t understand…but this was something that could seriously fuck up their chances of making it big.

Pops called a doc, some Beverly Hills shrink, and she came out and gave me a shot in the hip, told me to rest for a half hour, and she went with me and we talked.

She looked like Faye Dunaway, if you know who I mean. About fifty, blond hair and seriously gorgeous. Smart? Dear God. It was like she had this ability to look inside souls, take an inventory and figure out what was wrong. Me? It was all about losing my parents when I was a kid. My dad was an actor and he had gone down to Mexico, to Acapulco, to receive some kind of award, and their plane crashed on the way back, so yeah, separation anxiety lead to more and more anxieties and Pops had no idea. Hell, neither did I. Anyway, understanding did not lead to catharsis and by the time showtime rolled around I was no better but the docs magic potion helped me keep it together long enough to do the show, and while it was magic, the ovations and the wild applause, as I walked offstage I passed right out. Down like a sack of potatoes, still on stage.

Or so I read in newspaper accounts the next morning. Despite not having diabetes the episode was ascribed to hypoglycemia and that was that. I spend all day working with a studio musician who would be on standby, a kind of understudy, in case I cratered that night – and of course I did.

I watched from backstage as this stranger played my music, and in fact he played better than I had, a supple fact not lost on Deni and my bandmates. I didn’t even show up for the third night’s performance, and when we returned to Berkeley the next day everyone tried to not make a big deal about it – but I knew something had changed between us. We all did, Deni most of all. I felt like damaged goods, a broken doll that not even all the king’s men could glue back together, but we started writing music again and pretty soon all was forgotten.

We went back to Burbank a few months later and started laying down tracks when word came that we were going to tour North America in the fall and Europe the coming winter and I started going to the shrink in Beverly Hills. Maybe she could help me, I told my mates. Yeah, maybe, they said.

Then a funny thing happened. The shrink invited me to go sailing with some friends of hers the next morning. I accepted the invitation, too, if only because I wanted to get to know her better, and I ran out and got a haircut too. Bought some boat shoes, of all things, and some natty red sailing shorts to go with them.

The boat, a huge racing yacht that had been famous in the 30s, belonged to her husband, of course, a billionaire property developer who owned half of LA, and they had a professional crew sailing the boat so all I had to do was sit around and look interested in my boat shoes, but the truth of the matter was I did indeed find myself interested. In fact, the idea of sailing away from all my anxiety seemed very enticing. I talked to the skipper about boats and sailing for a few hours and I learned a lot that afternoon.

There was another couple on the boat that day, a property developer from Newport Beach who had brought his wife and daughter along. The girl was maybe two years younger than I, and she was studying some kind of psychology at UC Irvine. And she loved our album. Her name was, of course, Jennifer. Every other girl in OC is named Jennifer, has been since the beginning of time.

She looked like one of Southern California’s home grown Hitler Youth so common to Orange County back in the day: rich, privileged, blond haired and blue eyed, yet she was sweet – and she loved sailing. Well, I thought I might love sailing too so we had something in common, right? Anyway, we talked boats and I figured out pretty quick she knew a lot more about boats than I ever would, that she’d grown up around boats, and also that she really, really liked our first album. She even had an original 45 of Lucy-Goosey, bless her heart, and we went out for a burger after we got back to the marina, then I drove her down to Newport, to her dorm at UCI, but when we got there she pointed me towards the beach and we went down to the peninsula, watched the moon fall on Catalina just before the sun decided to show up for a return engagement.

There was a boat show in Newport, she told me, usually in April or May, and she wanted to know if I’d come down and go to it with her. I said ‘sure, sounds fun’ before I knew what had happened, and we looked at one another when I dropped her off at the dorm like we were not quite sure where this was going. I wanted to kiss her, and I could tell she wanted me to, but I couldn’t – because I was afraid, and I told her so, too. I told her about seeing the shrink, about my looming performance anxiety and she seemed to understand. Anyway, I gave her my number at Pop’s house and she leaned over and kissed me once, gently, then again, not so gently, and then she told me I didn’t have anything to be worried about where she was concerned and everything kind of slipped into place after that. Right there in the car, as a matter of fact.

We finished the second album over the next few weeks then took a break, our first big tour not scheduled to begin for a month or so, and I went to Pop’s house to unwind. Everything seemed pretty much the same there, except Pops seemed to be slowing down, and suddenly, too. He said his back hurt more than it had recently I talked him into going to see his doc.

And Jennifer called my first night there, said she was going to be at the marina Saturday and wanted to know if I wanted to go out on a new boat. Sure, I said, and we set a time to meet up – and after that I couldn’t think about anything other than her – until my next appointment with the shrink, anyway. Pop’s internist was in the same building as mine so I dropped him off for his appointment then ducked in for mine, but when I came back for him he was still inside so I sat and waited.

And waited.

And a nurse came out and asked for me, led me back to an office – where I found Pops all red-eyed and an old internist handing him tissues. Prostate cancer, advanced well into the spine was the preliminary diagnosis, but biopsies would be done early Monday morning and we’d go from there. We left and he was pissed off because the same doc had told him a year ago the pain was probably related to a fall he’d taken a few years before. Maybe if he’d been more thorough he’d have a chance, he said, because if it had moved into the spine that was it.

“That was it?”

I understand my parents died when I was three, but since then no one I knew had kicked the bucket – and now, all of a sudden, the most important person in my life was telling me he was going to die, soon? That this was it?

I had an emotional disconnect about that time, I guess you might say. I was a little more concerned with my well being than his in that moment, a little more than afraid. No, let me rephrase that. I fell apart and we held on to one another there in the lobby for way too long, then we walked over to Nate ‘n Al’s for bagels and lox. He called some of his buddies from the studio, told them to come over for a few hands of poker – which was code for ‘shit has hit the fan’ and we sat there watching the ice melt in our glasses of iced tea, neither of us knowing what the hell to say to one another. My grandmother, his wife, would surely come apart at the seams tonight, he said, then this lanky gentleman walks in and comes over to our booth and sits down next to me.

Jimmy Stewart, in town between shoots and an old friend of the family, looked at Pops and sighed. “Aaron, you look just awful. Now tell me, what’s going on here?”

So Pops lays it out there and then Jimmy is all upset, the ice in his iced tea is melting along with ours, then he finally turns and looks at me.

“Heard that album of yours. It sure isn’t Benny Goodman, is it?”

Pops broke out laughing at that. “It sure isn’t, but that lead singer of theirs sure has great gonzagas. World class, if you know what I mean.”

Stewart rolled his eyes, shook his head. “All he can think about at a time like this is tits. Aaron? You’ll never change.”

“Amen to that, brother,” Pops said. “What do you have in that sack, Jimmy? Another model airplane?”

“Yup, yup. Me and Henry, you know how that goes?”

“Did you ever see his model room, Aaron?” Pops asked me.

“Yessir, been a few years, but…”

“I was building that B-52, wasn’t I?” Jimmy recalled. “Wingspan this big,” he said, holding his hands about a mile apart and we all laughed. He got up and patted Pops on the shoulder a minute later, told him he’d call soon, then he ambled over to a table where Gloria was already waiting and I could see the expression on her face.

I got up early and drove down to the marina, met Jennifer at the anointed hour and she took me down to a slip below an apartment building and hopped aboard a brand new Swan 4o. There were two other girls onboard already and they slipped the lines, let Jennifer back the boat out of the slip while they readied the sails. We sailed out of the marina after that, then turned south for Palos Verdes – and with barely enough wind to fill the sails the girls soon gave up and turned the engine on. Seems they were delivering the boat from the marina to it’s new owner down at the LA Yacht Club and I was along for the ride, and by the time we cleared the Point Vicente lighthouse we had enough wind to raise sail again and had a rip-roaring nine mile sleigh ride after that.

That was difference between 40 feet and 83. The smaller boat felt almost alive compared to the old J-class boat I’d sailed on the week before, and I found myself mesmerized by the sensation. I didn’t know it at the time, but Jennifer studied my face that day, told me once she was reliving her earliest sailing experiences by watching my reactions that day. She was very dialed into me, I guess you could say, even then.

We turned the boat over to her new owner and drove down to Newport, stopped and had an early dinner at The Crab Cooker, and after we dropped off the girls she drove me back up to the marina, and I told her about Pops then, about what my grandfather really meant to me, and she remained quiet all the while, let me ramble until we pulled into the lot where I’d left my car. She parked and turned to face me, leaned the side of her face on the seat and stared at me.

“What are you going to do now?” she asked. “Try to go on tour?”

“I don’t think I can do that. I need to be here now.”

She nodded her head. “I think so, too. You need anyone to talk to, just call me. Any time, day or night. Got it?”

I nodded my head, then looked her in the eye. “What happens if I fall in love with you?”

“If?” she said, grinning.

“Okay. When I fall in love with you?”

“Are you sure you haven’t already?”

I can still feel that moment. Like it was the most important moment of my life, those precious seconds are still right there with me, wherever I go.

“I know exactly when I fell in love with you,” I said.

“Oh?”

“About a minute ago. Before that I was fighting it.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“I think you’ve been fighting it all day. I know I have.”

“You want to go meet my Pops?”

She nodded her head. “Yeah. I think that’d be a good thing?”

So we went. She met Pops and he loved her too, which was kind of a good thing. It was the first time I’d ever come home with a girl, and the moment wasn’t lost on either of us. My grandmother was a little coy about the whole thing, a little too reserved one minute then effusive the next, but by the time we left she’d come around too.

“So, you’re the one?” Pops asked when he walked us to the driveway out front, and Jennifer didn’t know what to say just then, but I did.

“Yeah, Pops, she’s it. You mind if we run off to Vegas and do the deed, or did you want us to do it here?”

“Let’s all go to Vegas,” he said. “I can hit the tables after, and who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky,” he added, popping my grandmother lightly on her tail-feathers.

And we all laughed at that, even my grandmother, but we weren’t fooling anyone. Not by a long shot.

“He’s kind of cool,” Jennifer said as we drove back to the marina. “Old school, I guess.”

“He is that. Not many like him left in this town.”

“Thanks for letting me meet him. Even if you were joking…”

And I looked at her just then, like maybe I’d been joking, and maybe I hadn’t. And she looked at me, too.

“You were joking, weren’t you?”

“We’ve known each other a week,” I said. “Maybe it would be nuts, but I haven’t been able to think about anything but you for days.”

And she nodded her head, looked down and didn’t say a word.

“What about you,” I asked. “Am I too late? Already spoken for?”

“I was serious about a guy in high school, and we kept dating after, even after I went to Stockton and he went to SC. We broke up six months ago, well, at Christmas.”

“What happened?”

“He met a girl, I guess. ‘Someone better’ was the way he put it.”

“Jeez. That was nice.”

“Yeah, you could put it that way.”

“No one since?”

She shook her head. “It messed with my head pretty bad. We’re seeing the same shrink, you know?”

No, I didn’t, but it kind of made since now so I nodded my head. “What happened?” I asked.

“Pills. My roommate found me in time, got me to the ER. Pumped my stomach, that scene. I came home after that. Haven’t been back, really.”

“You going to finish your degree?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Anything else you want to do?”

“I like sailing, that’s about all though. Dad put up some money to get a sailboat maker up and running, and I’m going to start working in the marketing and sales department this summer. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“Sounds kind of fun. Not a lot of stress, anyway, and doing something you love.”

“What about you? You going to keep playing?”

“Composing, anyway, and working on the studio tracks. We have a studio musician who’s preparing to go out on the road if I can’t handle our next concert.”

“Where’s it going to be?”

“San Francisco, at the Fillmore. Hendrix is going to be there, some Brits, too. Should be a scene.”

“Wow…”

“You wanna come up?”

“You sure you want me to?”

“You know, we were talking about getting married a few minutes ago. Nothing’s changed.”

She looked at me again and I could see it all over her face, in her eyes. Not quite shame, but a real close cousin. Something deeper than embarrassed, anyway. Trying to kill yourself – and failing – had to be hard to deal with by yourself, but to lay it all out there like she just had? She either had guts or she wanted to see how real I was. The thing is, I wasn’t running. I think I started to really fall for her after that. I mean a deep kind of falling in love, like I wanted to take care of her. I know that seems a little off, but when I saw her vulnerabilities I wanted to be stronger so I could help her carry the load.

And I think that was a turning point for me.

Anyway, when we made it to her car we got out and walked around the marina for a while, looked at boats and talked about sailing – and I held her hand all the while. The thought I’d let go of her in a minute or two, let her drive back to Newport without me was hitting home real hard, a lot harder than I expected, and I stopped in front of a hotel there, turned her into my arms and I just held onto her. Maybe like forever, if you know what I mean, then I kissed her, told her that I loved her and maybe we should go get a room.

I remember those eyes of hers. Looking up at me then, so full of lingering intensity. She was so insanely gorgeous, too, probably the most beautiful girl I’d ever known, and if that asshole hadn’t fucked her up she would have been okay – or at least I kept telling myself that over the years. And hell, who knows, maybe I believed it, too, but she was fragile after that breakdown. Always was, right up to the day she left me.

+++++

I drove up to Berkeley a few days later; it was time to start rehearsing for the Fillmore gig. That ‘feeling stronger’ vibe stuck with me, too, and I felt good about going out on stage for the first time in my life. Deni picked up on the vibe, and she was ecstatic about the whole Jennifer thing, too. Rehearsals went great and I picked Jennie up the night before we were set to play, and we went down in time to listen to The Nice. There weren’t many of us trying to bring new technology onstage, and while Keith Emerson was creating quite a storm on stage everyone was hanging around in this haze of expectation, waiting for Hendrix.

He was the current God du jour, but for any keyboardists watching that night Emerson was surreal. Here was someone, finally, bringing classical structure into rock, and while his rendering of Simon’s America was electric, what caught me was a piece called the Five Bridges Suite, which fused classical with jazz and rock. About halfway through that piece I started to look around at the crowd and a kind of swaying trance had taken hold. People didn’t want to dance now, they had been transported somewhere else, someplace deep within Music, deeper than I’d ever thought possible. Even Jennie said “wow!” when those guys wrapped up and drifted into the crowd…

But when finally Jimi came out and the place erupted, and when The Experience started in with Fire you could understand what the electricity was all about. I hung on til they finished up with The Wind Cries Mary, and when I looked around the place I could feel something else passing through the crowd, something hard to put my finger on, but what struck me was the power music held over the crowd. Something awesome and huge, some force I’d never reckoned with before, and what got to me right then was Emerson. He was watching the crowd too, gauging the sudden surge of empathy, and I guess like me he was lost inside the wonder of the moment.

Another thing that hit me just then: the amount of pot hanging in the air. From fifty feet back the air was literally a purple haze, and with the multi-colored stage lights bathing the area around Hendrix the atmosphere was otherworldly. I knew a couple of cops were working the back of the crowd, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be them in this place. After the ‘free-speech’ demonstrations across the bay over the last few months, their was another ‘something’ hanging in the air, apparent, and it weren’t purdy, if you know what I mean. And that vibe was the raw underbelly of music at the Fillmore…

Sure, a lot of the music was about ‘peace and love’ but there was an awful lot of anger in the air; even so there was this Hell’s Angels vibe too, an undercurrent of outlaw malevolence that felt rooted in the desire to burn everything down to the ground. That was San Francisco then and I suspect it’s always been that way. Like some people working the fringes wanted to create something new, but to me it felt like this Fillmore fringe didn’t really care who got burned along the way. So, yeah, I think there was real anarchy in this group, like this new fringe wanted their parent’s world to dissolve within the purple haze hanging over that crowd inside the Fillmore, all emotion rooted in infantile rebellion, the tantrums of spoiled children.

Yet sometimes children are right, too.

That was in the air, too. Even the music. Our parent’s forms and structures, subverted and inverted, creating something new, anarchic and inclusive. Like the Beatles opened the doors to polite society and now the riffraff was rushing in – burning babies in Electric Ladyland. Music was, right before our eyes, becoming more political than it had in a hundred years, when Wagner politicized opera in post-Napoleonic Europe. If you think that’s trivial stuff, just consider for a moment that Marx grew out of that music, and so did Darwin.

So yeah, something was stirring in the underbelly of that crowd. Something big and noisy, and maybe ugly, too.

+++++

We were the first gig of the night, so we set up early and I looked around the place while I helped hook up the Moog and Mellotron. The air clear now, the room didn’t look all that big, like a place full of magic. Just a room, I thought, not unlike many others around this city, yet I had felt those forces last night. Emerson had too. We talked after Hendrix left, talked about the vibe we’d seen and felt, and we talked in epochal terms about music shape-shifting to the needs of the moment. About the politics of music. We talked Nixon and Vietnam and John Wayne and about the image of a girl who had put a flower down the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle. Everything was linked, he said, but the links weren’t easy to see – not yet, anyway. Music had to become the fabric that joined all these disparate factions, and musicians had to claim their place as leaders of this movement. Heady stuff, and even Jenn seemed caught up in the moment.

Yet standing up there on that stage looking out over that empty room it was hard to see music as anything other than a diversion. Maybe we were the sideshow to the real action. I’d just read Jerry Rubin’s ‘Do It!’ – a real anarchist’s manifesto – and I wondered: could music take on that weight, shoulder that burden? Or would music fragment the way society seemed to be fragmenting?

Even when I worked with Deni it was there – this impulse to fly apart, to head off in uncharted new directions. There wasn’t some unseen political hand pushing us towards a grand unified theory of musicians leading a movement. Most of the kids on stage were just that: they liked to play the guitar or the keys. We got off on making music together, and I can’t recall ever sitting around and saying “Wow, did you see those riots up on campus today! We got to write about that!”

Yeah, but there was one anthem out there that contradicts all that. For What It’s Worth, by the Buffalo Springfield – and maybe that’s the vibe Emerson was channeling that night in the haze – but the idea hit me then that I had always seen music as a reflection of events, not a means to change things, but maybe it could be both and I’d never really seen it as such – and I had an idea.

I hadn’t played Lucy-Goosey in years. The music had dissolved into that early Beatles-like haze of I Wanna Hold Your Hand and She Loves You, Yeah-Yeah-Yeah, but it was still there, buried somewhere in our collective unconscious – so what if we…

Deni was kind of entranced by the whole thing, too, and she came up with a few bridges to make the pop refrains relevant once again. Lucy was going to go from bubble-gum chewing sycophant to radical anarchist on stage tonight, and the whole thing was taking shape in a burst of creativity that had come out of nowhere, man.

When the lights went down a slide was projected on the wall behind the stage, an image of that girl sticking a daisy down the barrel of the guardsman’s rifle, and I walked out and got behind the keyboards – then turned and looked at Jennifer standing in the shadows backstage and I smiled, then turned to face the sea of faces and raised my fist, then the room went black – with just a small spot on me, and that image of the girl hanging back there behind the purple haze.

I started with the simplest piano refrains from Lucy-Goosey and the sea of faces went silent as quiet expectation replaced hyped anticipation, and my piano was almost in chopsticks mode: simple notes even a child could play, awakening memory. Our lead guitar stepped out and another spot hit him, and he started echoing my simplistic melody. Deni came out next and the crowd erupted, then as quickly shut down as she started into an even simpler, quieter version of my original lyric, and she turned to a small harp and echoed my notes as the lights faded, leaving only the image of the girl – which soon faded to black as my piano grew softer, then silent. In the darkness the rest of the band came out and when the lights flared we turned Lucy into a molotov cocktail throwing radical with what I’d say presaged a grungy-heavy metal infused sound – music that no one in the audience had heard before – and the surge of energy was cataclysmic. I kept the simple piano melody going, but that was echoed by soaring, dark chords on the Mellotron, and with Deni’s inverted lyrics Lucy’s transformation was complete.

And I felt that transformation in my soul, too, like I’d just grown up. The insecure teenager died out there that night, and when we walked offstage an hour later I walked into Jennifer’s arms and held on tight, because I knew the ride was about to get real bumpy.

+++++

Pops was a lot sicker than he let on, and he kept everything wrapped up and put away, out of sight. Every time I called he was ‘fine, doing great’ – and Terry, his wife, my ‘grandmother’ went along with his charades, and it worked ‘til we came to LA to play several concerts around town. I went home after our first and when I saw him I burst out crying. I couldn’t help it.

“Do I look that bad?” he asked.

He looked like an orange scarecrow, only worse.

“The color,” he said, “is from liver failure. I kind of like it, too. Like a walking traffic sign, don’t you think? When I walk out of the doctor’s office everyone stops and stares.”

I felt sick, too, just looking at him, and then Terry told me he had maybe a month or two left, and I kind of fractured when I heard that. Like I didn’t know what to think. Pops was my last link to an almost invisible past, and without him I would be well and truly alone. There weren’t any brothers or sisters or aunts and uncles, there was just me and Pops. I was going to be, if I remained alone and childless, the last of the line.

And that was a big question hanging in the air between us.

What’s with Jennifer, he wanted to know.

“We’re good,” I said, but there was something else hanging in the air. That whole fragile thing. She was depressed, and when she started going down that hole she turned to dolls to pick her back up. Dolls, as in The Valley of The. Pills, in other words, and here I need to digress a little. I didn’t do pills. I didn’t smoke – anything. I didn’t drink much, because I didn’t like the whole idea of losing control. I know, like the idea we have some kind of control is an almost comic idea, but the point is we do have the ability to control some things, and losing what little I had was to me a Very Bad Thing. I tripped all I wanted when I disappeared inside my music, but I could come out of it intact and lucid. I had Deni disappear down the LSD rabbit hole and not come out for days, and that scared the shit out of me. We’d been through two lead guitarists over the course of a year simply because one drug or another had taken them someplace they just couldn’t break free of, and I wasn’t going there.

So when I saw Jennifer headed down the same road I told her it worried me, and she told me to fuck off. So I did. I put her on a plane back to her father and told him what was going down, and what I heard back from him wasn’t worth mentioning, but he’d thought he was done with her and wasn’t happy to have her back under his roof.

I started spending more and more time in LA, spending as much time with Pops as I could, and my understudy started filling in more often when he started the terminal decline. We were in Cleveland when Terry called me, told me to come home, and it was about five hours before the show that night when I called Deni and told her. She came to my hotel room and we talked, and she told me to take my time, that they’d manage without me and I held her for the longest time. We’d been together as a group for more than two years by then, and I realized she was about the closest thing to family I’d have left – and I told her so.

“I never wanted you to be my brother, Aaron,” she told me. “All I know is we work well together, like I always imagined a husband would be, ya know?”

“That day, you remember?”

“Yeah. Love heroin. I’ll never forget. I’ve never loved anyone like I loved you,” she sighed, and then she was crying. “God, I don’t want you to go. Something’s going to happen to you back there. Something fuckin’ big’s coming, and I feel like it’s going to crush you, man.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do without him, Den. I’m scared, and with Jenn gone? I don’t know, man, I don’t know…”

“I’m here. Don’t you forget that.” She looked at me and we kissed, I mean like the last time we kissed, and I was full of these bizarre electric charges flicking off like lightning all over my skin, then she looked at me again. “I love you, and I will forever” she sighed, then we kissed again, and this time we were hovering beyond the abyss, ready to fall into bed, but she pulled back and ran from the room.

I got my bags together and made it out to the airport in time to catch a one-stop to LAX, and made it to the house a little after midnight. I went to Pop’s room and we sat and got caught up while Terry left to put on tea, but she came back in a few minutes later, her eyes full of grief. She turned on the TV and there were news reports of an airplane crash, a flight from Cleveland to Buffalo, and a hundred and fifteen people, including all members of the group Electric Karma, were feared dead.

I blinked, recoiled from the very idea Deni and all my mates were gone, that the sum total of our existence had been wiped from the slate in the blink of an eye, but the pictures on the screen told a very different story. A midair collision about a mile out over Lake Erie, and the 707 had burst into flames and fluttered down to the water, then slipped beneath black water.

Pops died the next day.

+++++

Jennifer thought I died that night and she came undone. Razor blades this time, and she’d meant to take herself out, no doubt about it. By the time I called their house the next morning the damage was done, though I didn’t find out for a few more hours. When I talked to her father later that day he sounded relieved and furious, and I told him I’d be down as soon I could. He said he understood and we left it at that, and Pops slipped into a morphine induced coma later that afternoon. We didn’t say goodbye, but when I held his hand I could feel him respond to my words. When I told him he meant the world to me, and that I’d miss him most of all he squeezed my hand, and I could hear him talking to me. All the talks we’d had over the years were still right there, and Terry was with me, holding on to me, when he slipped away.

She was English. Had had a good run in Hollywood after the war, made a half dozen romantic comedies with the likes of Cary Grant and, yes, Jimmy Stewart, so when Pops moved on it was a big deal in Hollywood circles, yet the death of my bandmates cast a long shadow over the whole affair. Everyone knew about Pops and me, how tight we were, yet Terry was big surprise – to me. I’d never really appreciated how close they were too, but one look at her and you knew it wasn’t an act. She stopped eating for a month, literally, and wasted away to nothing – and then I had to admit I really felt something for the woman. She wasn’t just Pop’s third wife, she too became the one last link I had to him, one I’d never realized existed, and all of a sudden I was scared she might die too.

And let’s not forget Jennifer, lying, in restraints, in a psychiatric hospital tucked deep inside the hills above Laguna Beach. I started driving down to Laguna every other day, then every morning, and I spent hours with Jennifer then drove back up to Beverly Hills, back to Pop’s house, and I tried to get Terry out of her funk.

About three weeks into this routine I decided to take Terry with me down to Laguna, try to get Terry to see what the real contours of falling into depression looked like, and it worked. That day marked a big turnaround for all of us, because she reached out to Jenn and they connected.

Like a lot of people around that time, I’d recently seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, and to me that time felt a lot like one of the key passages in the movie. When Hal goes bonkers and cuts Frank adrift, and Dave goes after his tumbling body in the pod – helmet-less. I wasn’t sure if I felt more like Dave, or Frank, but I knew everything was tumbling out of control and I was the only one who could set things straight.

Like Pops had set me straight after my parents died, I knew it was my turn at the controls, and I didn’t want to let either Pops or my old man down. Hell, by this point I didn’t want to let Jennifer’s father down. Whatever was wrong with Jenn, I saw then that her old man was probably behind a lot of it – so I’d in effect sent her back into the snake pit.

Nope. Not again. When you tell someone that you love them, you don’t do that. It’s a simple proposition, really. Either you mean what you say or what you say is meaningless, and now I took that to heart.

I loved Jenn. Simple as that. And I loved Terry, too. Simple as that.

So, let me tell you a little more about Terry.

She met Pops when he was in his late sixties. They got married when she was thirty three. She was forty four now, and every bit the Hollywood starlet she had been just a few years ago, and in the aftermath of her decision to rejoin the living she decided she was either going to move back to London and take up work on the stage, or make another movie. Maybe a bunch of movies.

And she wanted to know how I felt about her moving back to London. Specifically, did I want to her remain in LA, remain a part of my life, or did I want her to move on.

Mind you, I had just turned twenty seven so I wasn’t exactly a babe in the woods, and I’d never considered her my grandmother. She came into my life when I was sixteen, when she was considered one of the most desirable women in the world. Let’s just say I’d spent a few sleepless nights over her and leave it at that, and I think you’ll grasp the contours of my own little dilemma.

So, I told her ‘Hell no!’ I didn’t want her to just move on. I told her she was an important part of my life with Pops, and that she would always be important to me. The problem I didn’t quite wrap my head around is she didn’t see it that way. She’d spend ten plus years married to man who hadn’t been able to perform his marital duties for, well, a long time, and she was just entering her prime. The biggest part of the problem was the simplest, most elemental part, too. I still found her attractive, devastatingly so.

There was a part coming up, just being cast, where she’d get prime billing next to some very big names, and she’d gone to the audition dressed to kill. When she came back she was elated; she’d gotten the part and shooting began, in France, in three weeks. She wanted to celebrate and so we went down to The Bistro – where her landing the part was all the buzz. Everyone came by to congratulate her – and offer condolences – and everyone looked at me like ‘who the devil are you.’ Why, I’m her grandson – didn’t you know?

What followed was three of the most regrettably confusing weeks of my life, and I’ll spare you the details. Sex was not involved, thankfully, – or regrettably, depending on your point of view – but the whole thing was an emotional hurricane that left me drained. And Jenn began to pick up on the vibe, too.

“Are you sleeping with her?” she asked me one morning after I’d just walked into her room.

“What? With who?”

“Terry.”

“No.”

And I guess the way the word ‘no’ came out implied an air of finality, because she never brought it up again. And a few weeks after Terry left for Avignon Jennifer moved in with me, in Pop’s house.

Because he’d left it to me. He’d left everything to me, a not insubstantial sum of money. Then Electric Karma’s lawyers told me that as I was the only surviving band member, and there was no one higher up on the food chain in their world, all our royalties were now mine. In perpetuity. In other words, I was filthy rich, and all I’d done was write a few songs and nearly shit my pants in stage-fright a couple of times.

Herb Alpert was, literally, my next door neighbor and I talked him into a tour of the recording studio he’d just finished in his house and I decided then and there I was going to do the same thing, and a few weeks later architects and contractors were finalizing plans while contractors swarmed, then Jenn decided we needed to buy a sailboat.

So we went down to the Newport Boat Show and we looked at one yacht after another…Challengers and NorthStars and DownEast were a few of the names that stood out, but in the end I put money down on a Swan 41, a new Sparkman & Stephens design that had not even been officially launched yet, and wouldn’t, as it turned out, for three more years – which left us without a boat for the foreseeable future.

But there was a new company just starting up in Newport, called Westsail, and they had a 32 at the show that really struck a chord with me – and I bought her, right then and there, and after the show Jenn and I sailed her down to Little Balboa Island, to the dock in front of her father’s house. Pretty soon we were driving down there almost every day, taking Soliloquy out for a sail. We started hopping over to Catalina, dropping our anchor off the casino and snorkeling for so long our skin started to look like mottled white prunes.

Sailing kept me away from the house, and the construction project, but when that work wrapped I went to work on another project. I had all our master tapes delivered to the house and I got to work re-mastering the original cuts, adding some keyboard tracks I’d always wanted, then I took them over to MCA for a listen. They reissued both our albums, and I put together a gratuitous “Best Of Retrospective” just for good measure and before you could say ‘Money in the bank’ I’d banked so much money it was obscene.

So, I had a house in Beverly Hills, at least one sailboat in Newport Beach, more than ten million in banks everywhere from California to the Cayman Islands and a seriously crazy girlfriend who had an affinity for razor blades – and boats.

And with all my work done in the recording studio – it took all of six weeks, too – I was now out of things to do.

Ah, Terry. What about her, you ask?

Well, she had more money than God before she married Pops so that was never an issue, and I was soon reading about a secret marriage to her co-star in this new film, so presto, problem solved.

And within a week I was bored out of my mind.

“What about forming a new group?” Jenn asked.

And all I could see was Deni in that hotel room, telling me that she loved me, and that she always would.

“You know…I don’t think so. I can record an album myself if I really want to. I can play all the instruments, do everything but sing, and if I get the urge I’ll get someone to lay down a vocal track and do the rest on my own.”

She frowned, shook her head. “That’s not the point. Working with musicians on a common goal, that’s what you need right now.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Okay. What do you think about sailing to Hawaii?”

“What? You and me?”

“Yup.”

“That sounds fuckin’ bogus, man!”

Keep in mind, in 1972 ‘bogus’ meant something similar to ‘awesome’ these days. ‘Bogus,’ by the way, replaced ‘bitchin’ in the California lexicon, and ‘bitchin’ was a close cousin of ‘far out’ and ‘groovy.’ We clear now, Dude?

I had a million questions, the first being ‘could we do the trip on Soliloquy?’

“Fuck, yes. She was made for this kind of trip.”

“Oh?” Keep in mind about all I knew concerning sailboat was that the pointy end was supposed to go forward. Next, consider that Soliloquy had two pointy ends, so I was already confused.

“Yeah, we could hit Hawaii, then head south for Tahiti.”

“Tahiti?”

I’d heard of Tahiti. Once. I think.

“Sure. What do you think? Wanna try it?”

So, my suicidal girlfriend wanted to get me on a 32 foot long sailboat a thousand miles from the nearest land. To what end, I wondered?

“How long would it take to get to Hawaii?” I wanted to know.

“Depending on the wind, two to three weeks.”

“Weeks? Not months?”

“Yachts sailing in the Transpac Race do it in eight days. It’s not that big a deal.”

“Have you done it?”

“Twice.”

“Of course.”

“But this would be just you and me, no pressure. We could really get to know one another, I guess.”

“When?”

“Best time is June and July.”

“So…a month or so from now?”

“Yup.”

“Would you like to do this?”

“More than anything in the world.”

“Well, maybe we’d better get to work. My guess is Soliloquy isn’t geared up for this kind of thing.”

She looked at me and grinned. “I already have.”

“Ah.”

And so the worm turned.

+++++

I never considered myself a sailor. Never, as in ‘not once.’ I’d never been on a sailboat until the day my shrink invited me out on her husband’s J-boat, the day I met Jennifer, and yet I was hooked from that first day on. If you’ve ever looked at an eagle or a seagull and wondered what it’s like to bank free and easy on a breeze, well, sailing’s about as close as you’ll get in this life – and unless you happen to believe in reincarnation and hope to wind up as a bird in your next, that’s the end of that. Bottom line: after that day I began to consider myself a sailor – and I know that sounds ridiculous – until you consider sailing is a state of mind, not simple experience.

At that point sailing was, for me, heading out the Newport jetty around ten in the morning and dropping the anchor off Avalon 5-6 hours later. Soliloquy was a heavily built, very sound little ship and weather was never a factor; in forty knots with six to ten foot seas she just powered through the channel with kind of a ‘ho-hum’ feel, like – you’ll need to throw some heavier shit my way to make me work. She was confident feeling in bad weather, something I came to appreciate later that summer, but something I was, generally speaking, clueless about those first few months sailing with Jenn.

No GPS back in the day, too. Navigation was old school, and I bought a Plath sextant, a German made beauty, and Jenn taught me to use it so we shared navigation duties. I’d always been strong in math, and I guess that’s what carried me through music into composition, so sight reduction tables and the spherical trigonometry involved in celestial navigation wasn’t a stretch. Still, the first time we motored from Avalon to Newport in a pea-soup fog – and nailed it – I was proud of Jenn for being such an accomplished navigator – and teacher.

Anyway, we stocked the boat with provisions, including everything we’d need to bake bread at sea, and a few other necessities, like a life raft and a shitload of rum – because sailors only drink rum, right? – and I went to my favorite guitar dealer in Hollywood and picked up an small backpackers guitar, an acoustic beauty made in Vermont, and we were good to go.

We left Newport on the first of June, 1972, and we sailed to Avalon and baked bread that evening, and when the sun came up the next morning we pulled in the anchor and stowed it aft, then, once we cleared the southeast end of Catalina, we set a course of 260 degrees and settled in for the duration. Call it twenty-five hundred miles at an average of 125 miles per day, and though we racked off 150 most days, we had a few under a hundred, too. The stove and oven were propane, most lighting came from oil lamps, and we had an icebox – not refrigeration – so we went about a week with things like fresh meat and milk then switched over to canned goods and Parmalat milk for the next two. And the thing is, I found I just didn’t care. We figured out how to make things we liked using the things we had on hand, and we made rice and homemade curries that were something else – then you had to factor in the sunsets out there…a million miles from nowhere. Sitting in the cockpit with the aroma of freshly baked yeast bread coming out of the galley, and I played something new on the guitar while the sky went from yellow to orange to purple…well…yeah, it was magic.

One day the seas went flat, turned to an endless mirror, and the only things we saw all day were the fins of an occasional blue shark or United DC-8s overhead on their way to or from Honolulu, and I’d never felt so utterly at peace in all my life. We’d bought what we’d need to rig a cockpit awning so we did that day, if only to keep from being roasted alive under the sun, and I think we started in on each other by mid-morning, and kept at it through sunset. Like, literally, nonstop sex – for fifteen hours – and it was one of the most surreal days I’d ever experienced. Pure sex, cut off from everything else – not-one-other-distraction. Just intent, focused physicality.

I didn’t know Jennifer, not really, not before those hours, and I’m not sure she knew herself all that well, either, but we never looked at one another the same way after that. We were reduced to pure soul out there, not one false, pretentious emotion guided us. Soliloquy was hanging in that water, no wind stirred the sea and we’d drop a cedar bucket into the crystalline water and wash ourselves down from time to time, but other than that the day melted away – leaving pure love in it’s wake.

And that night the wind picked up, our speed too, then the wind really started blowing, the seas building and we sailed for three days under a double-reefed main and staysail, the steering handled by the Monitor wind-vane self-steering rig Jenn had installed by the factory. And still Soliloquy just powered through the seas, never once did we doubt her ability to carry us safely onward.

And a few windy days later the trip was over.

Jenn’s father had shown up a few days before our expected arrival and he’d secured a berth at Kewalo Basin, near the city center, and it turned out he was as excited as we were about the trip. The fact that it had turned out so peculiarly uneventful was icing on the cake…and because I think he had it fixed firmly in mind that the crossing would be something like making it to the summit of Everest he’d never considered making such a trip. Now he was on fire to do it, and was itching to make the trip back to California.

I wasn’t, however, not with him, and not on a 32 foot sailboat.

Yet Jennifer was. She thought it would be a good time for she and her father to mend some fences, and wanted me to come along.

And again, I didn’t want to be a part of that whole thing, and I let her know it in no uncertain terms. So, she told me to fly back, that she and her father would bring Soliloquy home to Newport.

Fine, says I, and I exit, stage right, on one of those United DC-8s we’d watched arcing across the sky. The thing is, there’s no easy way back from Hawaii to Southern California. Wind and currents make it much more doable if you arc north towards British Columbia, and then ride the current south past the Golden Gate to LA. It’s a much longer trip, and it takes a lot longer – as long as 4-5 weeks. Another drawback? You have to go much farther north, well into colder, arctic influenced waters where both storms and fog are the routine, so the trip is tough. More like the Everest expedition Jenn’s father didn’t want to experience, as a matter of fact.

So, a few days later I packed a bag and went to the airport. By myself. I flew to LA and took a taxi home, and like that it was over. The trip, our sudden affinity for each other – over and done with, like the whole thing had been a dream. Or a nightmare. It was like this thing she had going on with her father was a toxic, manic depressive beast where she had to convince herself she had to put things right, and fixing that busted relationship was a much higher priority that her relationship with me.

Jerry Garcia wanted me to help out on an album so I flew up north a few days after I got back, and we worked in the studio for almost a month, and by the time I left I had it in my head to do a solo album. Those sunsets came back to me then, playing that little backpackers guitar while Jenn baked bread down below, that sun-baked idyll, the buckets of seawater. I spent two weeks down in my basement studio laying down the tracks for just one song, and when I finished I carried it down to MCA and everyone who listened to it said it was the best thing I’d ever done. Could I carry through, create an album out of the experience?

Hell yes, I said.

And when I got home there was a message on my machine, from Jenn, in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. She and her did had had a gigantic falling out and he’d left her there; could I call her at the marina?

I called the number she left on the machine and some dockmaster ran down to Soliloquy to fetch her while my fingers drummed away on the kitchen counter, and when she finally got to the phone she was in breathless and in tears.

The whole trip had been a nightmare, she sobbed.

Was I surprised? No. As in, Hell No.

And when would she learn? How many more times would she let that mean-spirited asshole tear her apart. How many times would she run home and start the whole process all over again? What was I missing?

“What do you want, Jenn?”

“Could you fly up, help me bring Soliloquy back to LA?”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just that. What happens next?”

“We get on with our life. Together.”

“Really? Until the next time you need to run home to Daddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe you two were meant for each other. Maybe I’m just getting in the way, ya know?”

“Aaron…no. It’s not that way and you know it.”

“All I know is what I see.”

“Is that what you see?”

“Yes.”

She hung up on me.

The dockmaster called me at six the next morning. Jenn had found some razor blades.

+++++

I was up there by late morning, and her psychiatrists at the hospital were convinced this attempt had been a classic ‘cry for help,’ that her cuts hadn’t been deep enough to damage the tendons. But there was another complicating factor.

Yup. Pregnant. Timing worked out about right, too. Our sunbaked idyll had been more than productive musically. And now she wanted to abort the fetus. There was no point, she’d told her docs. She’d destroyed all her chances for happiness, just like she always did, so why bring a kid into that world? Why not just kill everything about us? Take care of business once and for all time.

Maybe I was beyond caring that day, but it was beginning to feel like she was using suicide as a weapon to hurt everyone around her. Me, certainly, but her mother and father, too, and now she was going to carry to the next logical step, in her world, anyway. Kill the truly blameless, and I was stunned. Too stunned for words.

When I went in to see her I told her as much, too. Kill that kid and she’d never see me again. Simple as that. I left the hospital and went down to the marina, listed the sailboat with a broker and flew back to LA that evening.

Yup. Cold. Heartless. And tired of going round and round on her psychotic merry-go-round.

Her docs called me two days later and said she’d opted to have the abortion. It was done.

And so was I.

With her, anyway.

Not with sailing, as it turned out. Not by a long shot.

There were a couple of guys down in Costa Mesa working on a new 38 footer, and I drove down to see them, and the boat they were working on. They called it the Alajuela, named after a city in Costa Rica, and work was well underway on their second hull when I showed up on their doorstep. By the time I left later that afternoon I’d bought the next available boat, and would have her in a little less than a year, so I went home and retreated to the studio.

Jenn, of course, started calling as soon as she got back to Newport.

I, of course, changed my number.

She started coming up to the house.

I asked her to leave, and never return. After the third return I called a lawyer, had him serve her with a restraining order – and out came the razor blades. I heard that anecdotally, of course. Her father didn’t call me. He called my lawyer, who told me. Another near miss, of course, but this time they put her away for a couple of years and in the end I didn’t see her for almost ten years.

She made her way into my music, however. The love I felt that day for her was as real as it ever was, and that was hard to reconcile. As hard as it was to reconcile the kid she so carelessly killed.

+++++

I wrapped up the album about a month before Troubadour launched, and the studio had released Idyll as a single a few months before. Well received, too, but not like Electric Karma’s albums, so when the new album shot up the charts two weeks after release I was as surprised as I was happy.

But I wasn’t into it anymore. I had moved on, was already planning for a life with Troubadour. Everything about her was planned for one thing, and one thing only. I was going to take her around the world, and I’d probably be going solo, too.

Refrigeration was built in, roller furling headsails too. A more robust self-steering vane was a must, and light air sails a must. I wanted teak decks again, and they relented, laid them for me, and by the time Troubadour hit Newport harbor she was mine, purpose built and ready to roll. I moved her to a friend’s slip at the Balboa Bay Club and fitted her out, packed her to the gills – in less than a week, then I went home for a few days – to say goodbye.

I decided to rent Pop’s house to a friend of mine, a musician, and in the end left the house in the care of my lawyer. I drove down to Newport, handed my car over to the guys at the boatyard and in the middle a foggy March night I cast off her lines and slipped out the jetty, pointed her bow to the southwest – bound for the Marquesas.

This fragment © 2017 | adrian leverkühn | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com | hope you enjoyed…

Rosalinda’s Eyes (1-3 complete)

A few revisions, more grammatical errors fixed (unreal, really), so here is the completed story, all three chapters combined, not quite fifty pages, so pull up a chair and fix some tea/coffee/tequila and have a go.

Rosa comp cover

Rosalinda’s Eyes

I grew up on the doorstep of wild dichotomies, yet my parents never really tried to help us come to terms with the divergence they created – and maybe that’s because they were the source of our confusion. There were my four sisters and me – the lone brother, the oldest of the litter, but not by much – and I think we were all affected in one way or another. Some worse than others, of course. My parents went into a kind of reproductive frenzy in 1945 and didn’t stop for seven years, and I think my father paused then only because he was trying to figure out how was going to pay for all those new, yearning mouths, yet the picture I had of my mother, by 1952, was of a terrified woman who lived in fear that her husband might come home from work – ‘in the mood again.’ The thought of one more childbirth, I suppose, sent her into paroxysms of scissor-wielding rage – as if my father had even remotely expressed interest in doing the hunka-chunka, scissors would magically appear from behind her back – and she would begin snipping away at his testicles.

“Get that thing away from me!” she’d shout as she pointed at his Willy with her scissors, and those of us in the house old enough to have seen Dracula would have this vision of Van Helsing holding up a crucifix to ward off vampires. Almost funny when you see it in your mind’s eye – until you knew the backstory, I guess.

We lived on Academy Road, in the shadow of Elysian Park, on the east side of the park in an area just north of downtown Los Angeles – and Dodger Stadium . In fact, one of the seminal events of my childhood involved the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA just as I hit my teens, and a new stadium was being built for them hard by the park, and by the time I was in high school professional baseball was inescapable in our neighborhood. My father, of course, loved baseball, and soon enough the Dodgers, too, while sports in general meant nothing to my mother, so going to games was something my father and I did together. Part of a trend, I think.

In time, we each graduated from Cathedral High School, the Big Catholic School just south of the park, and we went to nearby St Peter’s every Sunday morning, too. There was something weird about all that, too. In a city dedicated to the proposition that you needed to drive at least a half hour to find a quart of milk, we walked everywhere. To school, to church, to the local market – everywhere. Dad drove to work in Santa Monica in those days, to the Douglas Aircraft Company, where he was an engineer. He designed several parts of the old DC-3, but what I remember most growing up was his work on what would become the DC-8. He would bring these colossal drawings of the cockpit home and we would go over them, and we would daydream about the places people would go in such machines. How fast – more than 500 miles per hour! More than 3000 miles away – eventually over 5000! As work progressed on the mock-ups, we would drive out to Long Beach on weekends and look at the first working layouts of the cockpit, and eventually we watched the first pre-production airframes as they came down the line. I stood by his side and watched the first DC-8 take off, and as luck would have it later that day we went to our very first Dodgers’ game – together. It was a little like nirvana, I think…

Anyway, what it all meant? I grew up wanting to be just like him. I wanted to draw airplanes and have kids, raise my family near the park and go to St Peter’s, send my kids to Cathedral High, so I did just what dad did: I went to USC and started on my degree in aeronautical engineering.

But there was already talk about Vietnam, about a war starting in Southeast Asia. About how maybe they’d start drafting kids ‘any day now.’ Recruiters were all over campuses, all over the country in those early days of the war, and that proved to be one of the earliest divergent dichotomies I ran into. Kids with crew cuts, like me, and the kids who were beginning to look more and more like John Lennon and the rest of the Beatle-haired acolytes invading the country. Kids with football posters on their dorm room walls, and kids with day-glow posters celebrating peace, drugs and rock ‘n roll. And the poster above the bed in my dorm room was of a DC-8’s main panel. Annotated. And I knew the function of every button and dial on that control panel before I’d graduated – from high school.

Need I say more?

Two days after graduating ‘SC I swore an oath and got on a bus headed north, to Seattle, to OCS. Officer’s Candidate School. The whole Officer and a Gentleman thing Richard Gere would make famous twenty years later…that was my life for one summer. Then another year learning to fly. The the real deal. Getting shot off a pitching carrier’s deck at three in the morning, in a typhoon, dropping bombs all over Vietnam on multiple tours over the next three and half years. Then the arm twisting: please, re-enlist! No more combat, just training the next generation of pilots for combat – and just like that two more years disappeared – and I literally left the Navy as Richard Nixon waved good-bye that August morning, as he boarded Marine One in disgrace and fled to California.

Yet I was never “anti-war” – or anti-anything – for that matter. I was all for designing airplanes, and flying them, too, and that was about as far as my political engagement went. To say I didn’t care about politics would have been an understatement. I voted Democratic because my parents voted that way, and so did everyone else we grew up around. I barely knew what “abortion” was all about because no one ever talked about it – at least not in polite society, and I literally had no idea what homosexuality was until my third year of college. I never smoked anything growing up because my father didn’t, and the first time I smelled pot I thought someone was burning manure in my dormitory’s bathroom. My father drank one or two beers on Saturday afternoon, usually listening to a game on the radio while he worked on the yard or tinkered with stuff in the garage, and so later, if I drank anything at all it was beer, and two at the most. My father’s college grade point average on graduation was 3.88; mine was 3.89, and I tried not to gloat. He was very proud, however, at least I think he was.

We were Irish Catholics, and we hung out with other Irish Catholics; blue collar, hard working men and women who either built LA or patrolled her streets. Tons of cops, in other words, and with the LAPD’s academy just up the street from our house, ours was arguably the safest neighborhood in LA County. It also had the most well behaved kids.

The extent of the ‘diversity’ I knew of growing up was simply this: in my world there were Irish Catholics, and there were Italian Catholics. If we had a common language it was Latin, and maybe English. And that English would be replete with old world accents. The only thing I knew for sure was that Italians were different because their last names ended in vowels.

That reality changed little in the Navy. I was a serious pilot and I took the meaning of the oath I swore to the Constitution seriously. I held the words “we, the people” to mean just that. Not we the white people, but all us, as in: we’re all in this together. I thought that way because, by and large, my father did. Because the people in our church did. My teachers did, and even the cops who came over for my mother’s corned beef did. Well, most of them did. I think the first racism I experienced came in the form of scorching expletives a few of those cops would let slip when talking about the negroes down in South Central, or around Rampart Division.

The only negro I knew growing up was the old man who came by twice a week to mow lawns in our neighborhood. If there was a family that had only daughters, or no kids at all, they got their lawns mown by Mr Thomas. I’d hear his push mower spitting away, cutting little patches of grass on those infrequent afternoons he came by, and sometimes I’d watch him work. He’d have to stop every now and sharpen those turbine like swirls of blade, or pump some grease into the single axle, then off he’d go, pushing his mower across the grass. Fifty cents a lawn in those days, and he was as regular as clockwork. Always smiling, always whistling some indecipherable tune. I think for a dime or two he pruned bushes or weeded gardens, so as far as I knew he kept busy. He was the only black person I knew growing up. That’s the way it was.

When I came home in ‘74 I went to work for United Air Lines, moved to San Francisco for a few years, then to New York City, and I flew DC-8s for a whie, which was a blast for both me and my father, but we grew apart when I moved to New York, and that was something new for all of us. And I know I haven’t talked much about my sisters, but that’s because I think their lives were almost peripheral to both my father and I. All but my youngest sister, Patricia, that is. We always called her PJ, too. I barely knew her at all back then; she was not yet ten years old when I went to USC, and she came of age during the height of the counter-culture wars that defined the second half of the 60s. She was in trouble all the time too, doing drugs, pregnant – twice – before she got out of high school. Arrested once when she and some friends snuck out onto the runway at LAX; they laid down on the threshold, cringing as airliners flared just overhead and touched down a hundred yards away, and how I don’t know but the cops determined they were all tripping on acid. She was this red-headed lust bomb that wanted a father’s attention and never got enough, so she went looking elsewhere for love. Everywhere else, and so, of course, in due course she broke my father’s heart and he did exactly what he shouldn’t have and threw her out of the house.

When I moved to San Francisco after the war, into an apartment on a hill overlooking the bay and the airport, I’d not seen her since ‘68. My parent’s had neither seen nor heard from her in two years, yet one morning, very early on a Saturday morning, I was coming in after an overnighter from JFK and there she was, curled up on an olive green army surplus duffel bag – on my doorstep. I’d have never recognized her but for the shocking head of wavy red hair she had, and those insane freckles.

I knelt down and lightly brushed her hair aside, saw her face and wanted to laugh and cry, all in the same breath. She weighed maybe ninety pounds and the insides of her arms were covered with tracks; she smelled of beer and urine, and – of all things – patchouli. I opened my door and dropped my bag on the floor, then went out to rouse her.

Which turned out to not be the easiest thing I’d ever tried, so I picked her up and carried her to my bedroom, laid her out – and after I carried her duffel inside I called father.

“PJs here,” I remember saying before I’d even said hello and, as he’d been most upset about her behavior – and his own – I think he started crying. My mother was on the phone in an instant and I told her what I’d just found, and she wanted to know what they should do. “I think consciousness and coffee first, Mom. Let me talk to her, see what’s up. As soon as I know something I’ll call.”

I figured if coffee and bacon didn’t wake her nothing would, so I went to the kitchen and started in on breakfast, making more than enough noise to wake the dead, and sure enough, about ten minutes later in she came. Even looking half dead she was as seriously gorgeous as ever, and she walked over to my breakfast table and sat, rubbing her eyes first, then looking at me –

I was still in uniform, of course, looking every inch the figure of upright moral propriety – which, ahem, of course I was – and she grinned when I looked at her and said: “Well, there he is, ladies and gentlemen, Roger Ramjet!”

To which I replied: “Two eggs, or three?”

“You know, I could eat three, maybe more.”

“How long since you had something solid?”

She shrugged. “I passed out with some guys cock in my mouth last night. When I came-to he was passed out and his dick was still right where he’d left it.”

I was aware of staring at her, at the extremity of her behavior, and her need, and that until this very moment the contours of her existence had been a mystery to me. I remember thinking how shocked I was, how almost outraged I became, then how scared I was – for her. In two years no contact with any of us, and now here she was. Of all the people in the world she could have gone to, she chose the man most like the father who had cast her aside, adrift…to wander in the wilderness.

Why? I mean, really? Why?

To perpetuate a cycle that would put her right back on the street? To make my life a living hell, if only to validate her own low opinion of herself?

“So, what else have you been up to?”

“Taking classes, at Berkeley,” she said.

That figures, I wanted to say. “Oh? What in?”

“Physics and cosmology.”

And I looked at her again, really more of a double take. “Really?”

“Yeah, ya know, I’ve been trippin’ out there for a few years so I figured I ought to study some of the things I’ve seen.”

And this was said with a straight face, mind you.

“Timothy Leary’s dead,” I sang.

“No, no, no, no, he’s outside, looking in,” she sang back to me, and we had a laugh while I put on a skillet full of eggs.

“I can’t remember how you like yours cooked.”

“Over easy.”

I poured her a cup of coffee and took it to her, and for some reason I bent over and kissed her forehead. “It’s sure good to see you,” I said, then I ducked back in the kitchen to turn the bacon again.

When I turned back to her she was staring out my window, at the runways laid out below. “You like it? Flying, I mean?”

“I do.”

“I think I’d like the travel part. See new things all the time.”

“I see the panel most of the time, then a lot of strange hotel rooms, but I know what you’re saying.”

“Think I’d be a good stewardess?”

“I think you’d be good at whatever you decided to put your back into.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Yes.”

“Could you help me? Get there, I mean?”

“Of course.”

I carried our plates out and sat next to here, and she turned, stared at the plate. “I think I need to turn my life around, Tommy,” she said, her voice hovering someplace under the rainbow, so gentle I almost couldn’t hear her.

“Well then,” I said, “you came to the right place, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” she said, and she looked at me just then in a way I’ll never forget, and in a way I could never describe, not in a million years.

I called the parents, told them what was up and what was down and that she wasn’t ready to see father just yet, and I heard some peace in the old man’s voice for the first time in a long time. She asked if I had a car, and I didn’t, not yet, but I was thinking of getting one. She said she had stuff in the pad she’d been hanging out in, over in Oakland somewhere, and she’d need to get it soon or risk losing everything, so I rented a van and we drove over, collected her things from three different apartments and I had to laugh. A few pairs of jeans, a few books and phonograph records…maybe fifty bucks worth of “stuff” – and that was her lot in life. She’d been traveling light, that much was certain. She always would, too.

We passed a Porsche dealership on the way home and I pulled in, had a look around. There was a Targa on the lot, white with a blue interior, and she went right to it, fell in love with it on the spot. I filled out the paperwork, my first loan ever, of any kind, and it was approved two days later. She went with me to pick it up and we drove down Skyline Drive and over to Half Moon Bay, ate artichokes above the beach and looked at the Elephant Seals basking on the sand. She was becoming a friend, my first sister to do so.

And to tell you truth, I’d never been happier.

Need I say more?

+++++

She graduated from Stew School a year later, and she snagged a posting in San Fran and started helping out with the rent. She’d taken my bedroom a long time ago; I was sleeping on a fold-out sofa-bed in the living room, sore back and all. On the rare occasion we were home together we’d sit up and watch non-stop Star Trek re-runs all night long, or go out for a burger and a movie, and time sort of slipped into this unexpected sequel.

When she graduated she bid for this crappy route – SFO to Orange County to Sacramento and back to SFO – and of course she got it, if only because nobody else wanted it, but she was home every night. I was home every other night, so we had a lot of time together. One afternoon I was in early and doing some housecleaning when she came in, dragging her ass in the usual early October heat, and she plopped down on the sofa and told me to “sit down, immediately!”

So I sat.

And she flipped off her pumps and dropped her feet in my lap.

“Foot rub! Now, before I die!”

“Peej, you need a boyfriend. Bad.”

“No. I need a foot rub. Now, please.”

And now of course I must backtrack. Explain that not only did I not have a girlfriend, I’d also never, and I mean not once, given anyone a foot rub. Not once. And not only was I a foot rub virgin, it had never been in my game plan to give any of my sisters a foot rub. Not one of them.

Yet I could see her feet were wrecks. Red, puffy in places, almost blistered in others, her need was acute, and real, so I got down to it – and she fell instantly asleep. I kept at it for a few more minutes then ran the bath and carried her in, told her to soak for a while, and that I’d find some lotion to rub on them. When she came out we resumed, and the first thing I mentioned – again – was that this was a far better activity for a boyfriend to manage for her, not her brother.

“I know,” she said, “but the thought of being with a man again revolts me.”

“Well,” I said – jokingly, I’m sure, “what about a girlfriend?”

And she looked away. “And what if I have a girlfriend? What then?”

“Do you?” I asked.

“Kind of.” And she explained how she and one of her dorm mates at the academy had had much the same experience she’d had with boys, and how they both felt ‘over the whole boyfriend thing’ by then.

And of course I asked if she had done anything with this girl.

“Like what, Tommy?”

“You know…whatever girls do with one another.”

“You mean, like…”

“Yeah, like whatever.”

“You want me to tell you about it, Tommy? Would that turn you on?”

“No, as a matter of fact it wouldn’t.”

“Oh,” she said, and she’d sounded a little disappointed, too, which I thought odd.

“I have some interesting news,” I added. “A chance to move over to 747s. First officer. A few months of training, then a posting to Kennedy. Probably JFK to Paris or Frankfurt.”

She brightened immediately. “Any chance I could tag along?”

This wasn’t surprising. When she’d mentioned wanting to travel, Sacramento wasn’t exactly high on her list of places to visit. Paris was, and this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I, for my part, had already looked into the possibility, and yes, it wasn’t a stretch, but she’d need another year or two under her belt before she could bid on one of those routes.

It was a logistics nightmare, getting her moved to New York and settled in a new apartment while I spent months in training, but father drove across with her, and I think the time was important for them both. I arrived expecting to find her in a one bedroom close to mine, but no, she’d picked out a really nice two bedroom place and so our life together continued – with little changed.

With Paris my first bid run, I found myself away much more than I had been, and she was locked into a JFK to Denver Stapleton run for at least a year, so we really were lucky to run into one another more than a few times a month. I came home one afternoon and found her in bed with another flight attendant, a woman, and I let it go without comment. Pretty soon almost every time I saw her she was with this woman, and I started doing a little research on her.

She was almost forty, and considered a hard case. She was curt, I learned, and often abrasive, but she was by any other measure an excellent flight attendant. She was routinely passed over for plum assignments and, I assumed after reading between a few lines, this was most likely the result of her sexual proclivities. The few times I ran into her she seemed almost suspicious of me, yet she was nice enough, in an offhanded way. And, I had to admit, with her around I’d never have to give my sister another foot rub – and that was a very good thing.

Yet when PJ did indeed get a Paris run that was too much for this other gal. She’d put in for the run countless times, and had been turned down countless times, so when PJ nailed it on her first try the woman lost it and disappeared. Fearful that I might have to resume foot rub duties, I asked what her intentions were now.

“I think I’m ready to jump back into penis infested waters,” she told me, and we laughed at that.

“What changed your mind,” I asked.

“Dildos never come in your mouth,” she said – with a straight face, “and I’m kind of missing that.”

“I’m sorry I asked,” I sighed.

“When’s the last time you popped your cork, Tommy?”

“Bangkok, 1970.”

“Dear God.”

“I know. Awful.”

“Want me to get you off? Just a one off kind of thing?”

“PJ, shut the fuck up, would you?”

“Hey, I could use the practice.”

“Get a dildo,” I said, rumbling away in disgust.

So, she started on the Paris run. Not necessarily on my flight, but every now and then she ended up on my plane. One December we were walking the museums together and she took my arm, almost in the way husbands and wives do, a very casual gesture – and I knew it then. A woman just wasn’t going to happen to me. I was going to have to go out and find one the hard way. Problem is, or was, I really didn’t know how.

So, I asked the captain on my return flight. His recommendation: stay away from stews. That was it. Like the poor guy had been burned by that fire more than once. Our flight engineer recommended the bar scene at TGIFridays. So much for that, thank you very much.

I went out to use the head mid-flight and talked to the senior stew on the upper deck and her advice was straight-forward and to the point. As long as kids weren’t in the picture, she said, she was available.

“What?”

“If it’s just something casual,” she repeated, “I’d love to go out with you.”

Her name was Brenda Collins, a nice Irish girl. She looked, those days, a little like Deborah Kerr, but with ta-tas the size of the Hindenburg. We went out that night, for a burger and a chocolate malt, and when I dropped her off she asked me in. So, as I’m sure you know, I ended up giving her a two hour long foot rub, which led to a thirty second, tonsil shattering blowjob.

We were of course married ten months later. About three months before our first, Michael, was born. She’d been married once before, and she told me once it just didn’t take. We celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary a few years back, so I feel most certain this turned out to be something a little more than casual. Even so, I still rubbed her feet, and she gave the most glorious rendition of Hail to the Chief when she played the skin flute.

+++++

But…

PJ started to come apart at the seams when Brenda moved into my life, and for the first time I began to think that all those moments filled with tense innuendo had meant a lot more to her than they had to me. And all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t just leave her in the lurch. I started spending more time with her, taking her out to dinner with Brenda from time to time, making her feel like she was an important part of something new and better. I think I realized that, like the song, the more you give, the more you make. She went out on a few dates, and one of them took, another pilot, Derrick. She started having a life of her own again, a real, productive life of her own, and pretty soon we weren’t seeing each other all that often.

Brenda and I bought a house out past JFK, and life, for me, really started.

We had Michael, and not quite two years later a girl, Theresa, and even before I moved over to the left seat I was earning enough for Brenda to take extended leave and stay home with the kids. Both our fathers were retired by that point, and our parents came out for extended stays, some more extended than others, while the kids were in diapers. To help with the kids, my father said, but we ended up cooking ‘steaks a la Dad’ over charcoal every night I was home, and drinking our ritual two beers more and more often. Soon PJ and Derrick came over for those nights, too, and a separate, more enduring truce between Peej and pops was arrived at during that time, a peace that lasted ‘til the end.

And I don’t want to gloss over the next twenty years, but I can sum them up easily: they were remarkably uneventful in the way America was during those years. Staggering material prosperity and almost endless opportunity defined this world, and it seemed you had to work at being poor. Our kids grew up along those predefined pathways, went to Columbia and NYU, and my son stayed the course and went into the Navy, flew Hornets first in Iraq, later over Afghanistan, while my daughter went to med school in New Haven, finished her residency at Sloan-Kettering.

What seemed to put an end to all that prosperity, all that certainty, was 911. A few years shy of my mandatory retirement, I could just see one of the impacts on the World Trade Center while approaching New York City. We were still out over Long Island Sound, and I felt a pure, white hot anger I’d never felt in the skies over North Vietnam. Like many Americans, I began to hate any and everything about Islam and Arabs, particularly Saudi Arabians. When I saw a news report about Israelis and Palestinians at each others throats again I’d turn and look away. I had zero interest or sympathy for their endless bickering anymore, and in fact thought the most honorable way out of the situation would be to forgive Mexico’s debt and give Baja California to Israel in exchange for a few years peace. I figured with Israel out of the way the Arabs might let up killing each other, at least for a few months. Bitter? Me?

And after that it was so easy to Hate. Mexicans for this, Hondurans and El Salvadorans for that. Nigerians for failing to take baths seriously, Laotians for making better Thai food than Thai people. It seemed almost endless, the opportunities I created to simply Hate People. My politics became the politics of Hate and, like a cancer, I saw that Hate had begun to eat away at the very heart and soul of what it meant to be an American. I recognized Hate almost everywhere I went; the disease wasn’t confined to me. Maybe that’s what Bin Laden had in mind when he attacked America, but I doubt it. With a dozen people he accomplished what all the Japanese and Germans in the Second World War never could: he got Americans to turn inward and against one another, to begin tearing the country apart from inside.

+++++

My mood blackened with the country’s, I think, along like lines and for similar reasons. Parallel trends, I guess you could say. Not long after 911 my father began to deteriorate, and quite rapidly, too. I’m not implying a causal relationship, either. He was old and his heart had begun to fail while Clinton was still in office, and the years passed quickly after that…too quickly. He passed in 2003, my mother a year later, and that would have been hard enough to take – but Brenda fell ill as well. Breast cancer, and it staged out at IV by the time she was diagnosed. So, father in ‘03, mother in ’04 and my wife in 2005. My kids gone, out of the house, and then – one-two-three strikes and you’re out of love – right in the middle of the biggest increase in Hate the world had seen in seventy years. Oh yes. I retired too, so the one thing I loved was gone. A victim of the simplest, most predictable thing of all: getting old.

So, I say this might have been a parallel trend with good reason. We the baby-boomer generation had witnessed and come of age in the greatest explosion of material wealth in human history, and that explosion had taken place in our collective back yards. A huge number of kids grew up with tennis courts and swimming pools and really excellent schools, not to mention The Beatles and cheerleaders in really short skirts, and then, in the span of just a few short years all we’d worked so hard to build seemed at risk – and just then our parents started dropping like flies.

So, dark world events eclipsed by even darker personal shake-ups. Got it?

I went out to LA after Dad passed, to settle some lingering estate matters, and he wanted my mother to stay in the house now, and when she was gone it would pass to me. The rest of his investments would go to the girls, assuming those weren’t eaten up taking care of Mom, yet she failed rapidly when she learned of Brenda’s cancer. I think seven months passed between my mother’s and Brenda’s death, too.

And one winter’s day a few months after the girls and I buried Brenda, a blue sedan pulled up in front of my house and a Navy Chaplain walked up and knocked on my door, told me that my son had been killed in Afghanistan. I took the telegram and went upstairs to our bedroom and didn’t come out for days. I’d heard the phone ring, of course. I just didn’t answer. I couldn’t, you see. I knew I’d have to confront reality if I did, that I’d have to tell my sisters and my daughter – and I knew I couldn’t. And not come undone in their presence.

So Terry, my daughter, started calling PJ, who started calling me, and with no response they came out to the house, saw my car in the drive and expected the worst. They came upstairs and found me curled up in a tight ball, the crumpled yellow notice still in hand, and they read the words and fell to the bed beside me and we cried for what felt like weeks.

There was no body to bury; we were given a flag and the thanks of a grateful nation – and that was pretty much all there was to it. In the aftermath I looked around Long Island and finally realized I didn’t belong anymore so put the house on the market and moved back to my parent’s house on the east side of Elysian Park. Back to LA. Back into a part of the country that now felt more like Central America than the city I had grown up in. Back into the middle of the front lines of America’s wars of dissolution, where firefights were waged nightly between the cops and too many gangs to count, where body counts went unremarked in the local paper because they were seen as a little too incendiary.

In the end I went back because there’s no place like home.

Need I say more?

+++++

The house needed work, but so too did the neighborhood.

Dad’s next door neighbors for the last twenty years, Tom and Doris Parker, were still on hand, but everyone else I knew was gone. Oddly enough, many of the houses still belonged to cops, most long-time veterans with the LAPD, many of whom worked at the academy, yet even so most of the people around the neighborhood were not Irish Catholic anymore. Hispanic, I think, summed it up accurately, though there were a couple of black families around now, some Asians, too, and this last group had torn down the original bungalows and erected boxy little apartment buildings painted in weird colors. Maybe unheard of thirty years ago, yet the overall tenor of the neighborhood was little changed – beyond more bars on windows and a lot of alarm company signs on new, very strong fences. If you know what I mean.

Tom Parker had two boys working in the police department, and when the moving van appeared outside my father’s house the Parker brothers were soon on deck to lend a hand, and Doris invited me over to dinner that night. Shepherd’s pie and Guinness, of course. And some fresh soda bread. We talked about the good old days, they fretted about the neighborhood, and Tommy and Judd filled me in on the real score. The war zone started down the hill now, on the other side of the 110, and the park wasn’t safe after dark. Gangs and dealers, they said, and the cartels owned whole neighborhoods. Two judges’ bodies had been found so far this year, out in the desert with their heads blown off, a cartel signature. They’d rendered opinions against cartel members, and the cartel’s judgement had been as swift as it was final. Cops were being targeted, their homes and family members too. This wasn’t police work, Tommy Parker told me that night. It was war. A war fueled by drugs, simple as that. Their was suspicion in the ranks, that hispanic officers had been targeted and compromised, that there were more bad cops in the PD now than there ever had been before. Hispanic politicians were turning a blind eye, Tommy said, because most were on the take.

I noticed that the more Tommy drank the more worked up he got, and I saw Judd distancing himself as Tommy’s rant became darker, and after Tommy left Judd hung around a little, maybe to clear the air.

“It’s bad,” he said, “but not that bad, and maybe not all that different.” Everyone knew Irish politicians had been on the take, that Irish cops had patrolled non-Irish neighborhoods differently than they patrolled their own. But true enough, the cartels had made a big difference, that too many cops had been turned and were now on other payrolls. That judges had been gunned down, and too little of this stuff was making it into the news.

“Life’s not that bad here,” he said. “Tommy’s still makes the nastiest burger on earth, the beaches are still the best because the babes are still the hottest. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” he added, “and we’re glad to see you finally came back to your senses. Now, what are you going to do around here, besides pick your nose?”

“Get this house fixed up, first of all. Beyond that, not much.”

“You still fly?”

“No.”

“Could you? I mean, could you teach?”

“Yeah, for a few more years.”

“Well, I ask because my daughter started lessons but the cost got out of hand. Think you could lend a hand?”

“Let me look into it.”

Fateful words, like out of the mouths of babes – lost in the woods.

So…when I started clearing brush from the back yard, Judd and his girl Rebecca joined in on the fun. Judd hacked away with a machete while Becky and I hauled stuff to a dumpster I’d had delivered. Two days of solid work and the three of us had the yard down to dirt, and then I had a landscape designer come by and look over the site. Becky and I talked all the time, of course, about flying. She’d been about five hours into ground school for her private, or non-commercial license, and she’d stalled out, wasn’t making enough money to pay for both the flight school and the hours of flight time necessary to go on.

And when I checked with local schools the next day I found the cost of flight time exorbitant, prohibitively so. I talked with a few schools about my experience and they all sounded more than ready to take me on, but that wouldn’t affect the prices any. Becky still wouldn’t be able to afford the flight time, even if I gave away my time for her ground school.

But what if I bought an old Cessna and brought her up to snuff? Could I do that myself, and have a little airplane to tool around the neighborhood? Have a little fun flying and teaching while I still could? I talked that over with one of the bigger flight schools and yes, as long as I was willing to teach and train other students for their regular fees, they’d take me on – and even maintain and store the aircraft for me. I’d be out a little up-front money, and I’d have to commit to teaching a certain number of students per week, but all in all, I could make it work. In fact, this one dealer said they happened to have the perfect aircraft just sitting around, so I loaded up the 911 with my log books and copies of my ratings and drove out to the valley.

The aircraft was a two year old Cessna Turbo Skyhawk JT-A with a dual G1000 panel, and I knew it had to be priced way more than I was willing to spend – “but this one has low hours and the owner might be willing to make a really good deal.”

“Like how much?” I asked, and the owner of the flight school wrote down the number on a post-it note and slid it over.

I whistled. “Wow. Who’s the owner?”

“I am,” Stan Wood said.

“So, what’s the deal?”

“I could use an instructor with your experience, simple as that. If you’re willing to do instrument and multi-engine, I can guarantee you a six figure income, and I’ll make a shitload more than that a year, so it’s a win-win deal. AND – I’ll float the note with twenty grand down.” And with that he held out his hand.

I think he was daring me to refuse, too.

And I took it his hand, then we went out and took her up. I’d brought along a camera and snapped away, planning out the evening ahead as I framed shots. And the thing is, there’s nothing like flying a little bird like a Skyhawk, and for the first time in months I felt myself smiling inside, and as she was just a gorgeous aircraft – and had a panel to drool over – I felt close to ecstatic.

So, I called Judd, asked him to bring Becky over that afternoon after he got off work, then I carefully baited my trap. By the time they walked in the door I was beside myself, trying not to grin.

“So, I began. I’m going to need some help ripping up this carpet,” I began, and I could see Becky deflate. “Next, I think we’ll repaint the house. Inside and out. How much do you think that’s worth?”

“I don’t know,” she said, now clearly depressed.

So, I went over and fired up my iMac, pulled up a photo of the back yard. “Come take a look,” I said. “Here’s what I have in mind.” I think Judd could smell the set up now, and he walked over, stood by my desk, motioned Becky to come over too.

And when she was by my side I flipped to the next picture, an exterior shot with me standing by the pilot’s open door. Then one of the panel, another of us out over the Pacific, dozens more, in fact.

Her eyes were transfixed, and when I came to a closeup of the panel I paused, let her look long and hard. “Is that a Garmin 1000?” she asked.

“It is. One of the first in the country, too.”

“Jesus,” she whispered, then she turned to me.

“So, here’s the deal. Class meets here Tuesday and Thursday night. We fly Saturday mornings, rain or shine, at 0-800. You pay for gas, and you help me get this house cleaned up. We quit lessons when you’ve had enough or I die, whichever comes sooner.”

Have you ever been hugged by an 18 year old female LaCrosse player? It kind of hurts. On the other hand, turns out she was a damn fine little house painter.

+++++

Becky spent summers at her grandfather’s house next door, and she’d made a few friends in the neighborhood over the years, and one was another girl on the LaCrosse team with similar aspirations. She too wanted to fly, if not in the military then at the very least commercially. This girl’s name was Bettina Rodriguez, and Becky brought her by the house the very next evening.

“We wanted to know,” Becky began, “if the same deal applied for one more person?”

“What? Cleaning and painting, in exchange for lessons?”

“Yup.”

“I don’t even know you?” I said, looking at Bettina. “Or if your parents would even approve of such a thing.”

And I had never seen a look of such despair in my life. Not once.

“But…are you willing to work hard?” I added.

“Yessir.”

“Now, what about your parents?”

“It’s just my mother.”

“Okay, what about your mother? Does she have any idea what you’re up to?”

“No, sir.”

“Any idea that you’re interesting in flying?”

“Only since second grade,” she said, grinning like I had just asked the stupidest question in the history of humankind.

“Is your mother home?”

“Si, yes.”

“Well, you might see if she has time to come talk to me about this. And Becky? You’d better go with her. I think this may take some serious arm twisting on both your parts.”

I’d never seen anything move that fast in my life. They were out the door like two Phantoms on a night catapult launch – and I laughed a little as I went to the kitchen and fixed a big pitcher of iced tea.

I heard a knock on the door a few minutes later; I padded across the living room and opened it – and there was PJ, in tears, a taxi out front, waiting in the gloom.

“Do you have any money?” she blurted.

Need I say more?

+++++

I guess, in order to make a long story somewhat shorter, I’ll skip the details and just say that Derrick had had enough of PJ. He’d met someone new and filed for divorce, alleging PJs resumption of drugs, this time prescription opioids, as the proximate cause. She’d just retired from United and had nothing but time on her hands, and “Just look at me!” she cried. “I’m OLD!”

“Who the fuck isn’t?” I said, swearing for just the second time in my life. That’s sarcasm. You’re supposed to laugh. “Just what did you expect would happen after fifty three years?”

At any rate, about ten minutes after my narcissist, quasi-incestuous sister found her way back into my life, there came another knock on my door, one I held as vastly more important. I told her to go to our parents bedroom and to remain absolutely quiet until I came back to get her again. Maybe it was the tone in my voice but that’s exactly what she did, and when I heard the door close I went to the door and opened it again.

I don’t know what I expected, but there was this dark haired woman standing there, her eyes full of molten lava – the girls nowhere to be seen.

“Just what kind of sick pedophile are you,” this Hell-bitch from the Dark Side screamed, “to entice little girls with promises of flying lessons!?”

I, of course, did exactly what you’d have done in similar circumstances. I slammed the door in her face.

And I watched her tromp off across my yard – and straight into Tom and Doris Parker’s house. More screaming, then Tom Parker reading this peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell the riot act. Ten minutes later Judd’s car screeched to a halt out front and HE tromped straight into his parent’s house. Then more screaming, and I mean real hispanic testicle cutting screams, then I see this She-devil stomping down the middle of the street and I swear I could see smoke and sparks and flames erupting under each step, then Judd was in a low crouch, sneaking over to my house while trying not to let this flaming female Tasmanian she-devil see him slithering between houses.

Ten minutes later I saw three flaming females marching right up the middle of the street again, this time right up to my front door, smoke trailing in their wake.

Polite knocking – while Judd ran to a back bedroom, trying to find a place to hide.

I opened the door, let slip my best, most polite “Yes?” as I stood there, my door cracked open not quite an inch.

“Oh, si, my girls did not tell me so much about you, Mister…”

“It’s Captain.”

“What?”

“My name. Don’t call me Mister. It’s Captain. I flew 747s for 24 years. Y no me gusta ser llamado pedófilo en mi propia casa!”

A strong offense is, in my book, always the best defense. The more offensive the better.

“You speak Spanish?”

“Of course. And French. And German. And Italian,” I added, just for good measure, because I can ask where the bathroom is when I’m in Rome. I mean, can’t you? ‘Dov’è il bagno, nes pas?’

She was wide-eyed by that point, sputtering and apoplectic. I was quite enjoying myself by that point, too.

“I must apologize…” she resumed, but the point I need to make here is you need to know when you’ve won, when it’s time to just sit back and shut up, listen for a while and to not press the point home any further than absolutely necessary.

“No apologies necessary,” I said magnanimously. “Now, what can I do for you?”

“May we come in?” she asked.

I wanted to say something erudite, something learned, something like “promise you won’t cut my balls off – with a soup spoon?” But no, not me. I said something that sounded an awful lot like: “Of course you may.”

And then I laid out the deal. I showed her all my licenses, pictures of the Skyhawk. What I had offered Becky. What I was willing to offer her daughter in exchange for some work around the house.

“The girls mentioned painting? What are these lessons worth?”

“Around here, about ten grand.”

“For both, or each?”

“Each.”

“Then that is not a fair deal. For you.”

“Okay. What’s fair?”

“They clean your house, three afternoons a week, ‘til the end of time.”

“That’s not the deal I made with Becky.”

“For my daughter, then,” she said, turning. “Bettina?”

“Si, mama. I agree.”

“Then I do too,” Becky added.

“Fine,” I said, now looking this woman in the eye. “And I want one more thing.”

“And that is?” she said, returning my look with icy reserves of calm now. She was in her element now…combat had been joined and the game was afoot.

“You prepare Sunday lunch here, at my house, once a month, for a year.”

Her lips began to quiver, her eyes to twitch. I had her, and she knew it, then she turned to her daughter. “And? What have you to say to this?”

“Mama…please?”

She turned back to me, utterly defeated, and said: “I agree.”

I didn’t know this at the time, but there’s no way you can win a battle of this type with a Spanish woman, let alone a peri-menopausal Whore-bitch from Hell Spanish woman. I might have known the simple truth of the matter if I’d had a clearer view of her face just then, of the sly, murderous grin that passed like the shadow of a cloud across her face – but I missed that. Funny how I tend to miss little things like that.

At any rate, I’ve left off something in my retelling of these events. Something perhaps vital to an understanding of events yet to come. You see, once the steam stopped pouring out of this woman’s eyes and ears she was really quite lovely to look at. Think Penelope Cruz, with streaks of gray in her hair – and very, very short. Like five feet and nothing.

Anyway, the prospect of a homemade Mexican dinner once a month for a year was suddenly more than interesting, and as they were about to leave I felt I’d made the best out of a precarious situation. I’d come out ahead, even.

“Oh? What’s your name?” she asked.

“Just call me Captain Tom. And yours?”

“Rosalinda,” she said as she walked out my door.

And I smiled. Billy Joel songs danced through my mind’s eye just then, but…

There was one other piece of music I ought to cue you in on. A dance, between PJ and Judd.

For once upon a time, during the height of PJs high-school-slut-phase, the first boy to get her pregnant was none other than? Yes, you guessed right: Judd Parker. The girl Judd swore to love until his dying breath? Uh-huh. She’s the one. And how about this one: the number of months since Judd’s divorce had been finalized? If you guessed three…close enough.

When I went back to my parent’s bedroom there they were, sitting on the floor – holding hands.

Need I say more?

+++++

I needed to draw a picture in my mind – of my parent’s house and what I planned to do with her. Yes, her. She was, when all was said and done, a feminine house, full of a woman’s personality – perhaps my mother’s hidden side. Clean and austere, she was a Craftsman-style bungalow that veered to an almost Japanese austerity. She had been overbuilt, even by 20s standards, and that’s the 1920s for those too old to remember such things, and she was originally planned and constructed with three small bedrooms and a single, smallish bath. She had a large – for the neighborhood, anyway – backyard – and almost no grass out front. Due to my parent’s reproductive tendencies – and here, rabbits should hop forthrightly to mind – father built – and I mean ‘he’ built, not some contractor – an addition off the back of the original structure. Their bedroom, as well as a nursery – that would, in time, become PJs bedroom – filled this addition – and left a resolutely tiny, and useless, backyard in it’s unplanned aftermath.

The house is vaguely L-shaped now, kind of fat rectangle near the street – the original structure – and a long extension protruding into the backyard – his addition. There are two concrete slivers of driveway that lead to the one car garage sitting on the back property line, and a rusting four foot tall chain link fencing surrounds three sides of the property. Which is, by and large, flat. Until you get about two feet from the back lot line – where things change dramatically. The heavily wooded lot was carved out of a hillside, and the rear takes off into a near vertical climb, the face of this new ‘hill’ a raw wound of exposed white shale streaked with intermittent ground cover and a few struggling trees.

I say ‘intermittent ground cover’ because everything living in Los Angeles exists at the leisure of, some would say the mercy of, mother nature. Drought is the norm in the basin, yet when the arid plain on which the city was built isn’t parched it’s virtually a flood plain. The scorched earth could handle the rain that typically falls here – but for the mountains that line the north rim of the original city, and when the rains come the waters run down to our flat plain and cause all kinds of fun. Taken as a whole, there’s no real good reason for Los Angeles to be where it is, other than it provided a nice place to put the Hollywood sign.

So, after Dad built the addition the shaded back yard went from small to smaller, and in it’s uselessness it became an orphan, a neglected step-child that sat alone, unused, aside from a brick Bar-b-q my father and I built by the garage one summer. My plan now was to turn the area into an oasis of multi-level decks – and completely shaded by vine-laced trellis. When I sat back there dreaming of all the what-ifs and might-bes, maybe drinking my second beer of the evening, I envisioned a hot tub filled with nubile nymphs frolicking in the twilight, waiting for me with open arms. The next morning I would envision PJ waiting in the tepid water, begging for a foot rub, and all thoughts of a hot tub vanished in a snow-filled instant. But there was more, much more, I planned to do.

The bones of the house were sound, but her guts were rotten. The wiring was ancient, the plumbing prehistoric, and the appliance were already dated by the time Eisenhower took office. The kitchen countertops were a brilliant white formica streaked with pale, faux-marble yellows and blues, accented with truly lovely gold sparkles. Fashionable in 1938, I think. Wretched by 2006 standards.

So, need I say more?

Well, there was one bath in the original plan, designed by troglodytes for troglodytes, and the new one father added later. Father being an aircraft designer, the new bath resembled the toilet compartment in a brand new DC-6, circa 1954. The bathroom vanity and shower stall were constructed out of laboriously shaped and formed stainless steel, the work no doubt knocked off after hours at the old Santa Monica plant. There was something almost charming about this little cabinet sized bathroom, too. You could sit on the pot in there and close your eyes, almost hear old Pratt & Whitney radials humming away at fourteen thousand feet – which was, I think, the point of the exercise. I had mixed feelings about ripping that room apart, I really did, but in the end I gutted that room too. I did not have the heart to throw that stainless work away, however, and I’m certain it sits atop rafters out in the garage even now.

When the girls – Becky, Bettina and PJ – and I ripped up the fifty year old carpet, still clean and serviceable, mind you, we found floors of varnished Douglas fir, and in pristine condition. We found mould in a few corners, too, and this we quickly dispatched with solutions of bleach and then lemon oil, and I pulled carpet tack-strips and filled all the holes with putty, then wet-sanded the whole house in one long day, let her air out the next, then we set on her like locusts and applied a fresh coat of varnish on the third day. And we slept in the back yard under tarps those nights, in old Coleman sleeping bags we found rolled up in the garage, while Doris Parker provided refreshments and chow. With an old Coleman lantern sputtering away in the dark, we told ghost stories, and we tried to ignore sirens in the distance, but all in all it was fun.

I turned my old bedroom into a new classroom, put posters on the walls of all the things you’d normally find in a flight school classroom. A couple of old tables and four chairs, two newish iMacs and a flat panel to watch instructional videos rounded out the space, and my room felt strange, almost foreign to me after.

The old kitchen? Gone, in a heartbeat. Ripped apart with pry-bars and a sledge, then hauled away. A cabinet company installed the replacements in a morning, granite countertops went in the next afternoon, new appliances the day after and we were back in business. Judd and Tommy Parker helped me repaint the exterior of the house, as well as replace a few shaded patches of wood that had succumbed to rot, while the girls painted the inside of the house, and a livable structure emerged within a few weeks, with work on the bathrooms next up.

And during all this time, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, class was in session. Real, formal class. The kids wanted to talk airplanes all the time, and we did, but classroom time was structured, and tough. My classroom was a Navy classroom. All business, no jokes, no war stories, and it took a few days but I turned those two kids into studying machines. Not coincidentally, their grades in school began to improve as they applied these new study skills to all their other assignments. Yeah, I’m bragging. I taught this stuff in the Navy for two years, so let’s just say I know how to teach.

We would do three weeks of classroom before our first flight together because I wanted to stretch that time out a little, to take a measure of their resolve, their interest and dedication, and I wanted the week we finished up work on the house to be capped off by their first flight with me – not to mention Rosalinda’s first of twelve Sunday afternoon fiestas. All in all, I was looking forward to Rosalinda’s after-church blow out almost as much as I was taking the girls up.

I’ve also avoided talking about the Second Coming of PJ and Judd so far. Deliberately, I might add.

It had been decades since I’d been around teenaged groping and non-stop necking – and, frankly, it was odd to see two old farts sneaking away in the middle of the day to fuck their brains out for a while, then hastily reappear with paint brushes in hand, trying not to look too smug, or too guilty. Personally, I think it was hardest on old Tom and Doris, because Judd invariably snuck into his old bedroom to hammer PJ, and despite their age they did their level best to ignore all this newfound nonsense – but I did see Tom’s smile when I obliquely referenced these goings on.

And one other funny thing happened during this time.

When the kitchen was disestablished as the center of our little universe, Rosalinda came down and invited PJ and I to dinner, at her house. We looked at one another, then at Rosalinda, and shrugged “Sure, why not…” Roughly translated, that comes out as: “Si, como no?”

As in: “I’m making empanadas tonight. Would you like to join us?”

“Si, como no?”

Or: “PJ? I’m going over to the Farmer’s Market. Want to come along?”

“Si, como no?”

Remember that old 74 Porsche 911 I bought when PJ fell in love with it? I never sold it, and now here it sat, covered under multiple layers of car covers. As I had supplemented this with various old beaters over the years, she still had less than fifty thousand on her odometer and I still used her sparingly. For everyday use I had a thirty year old Datsun pickup in the driveway, complete with lumber rack, for hardware store duties and Tommy’s runs, but when I wanted to go out and have some fun, the covers came off and I fired up the old six, then popped the top.

And one night, after Rosalinda’s latest “Si, como no?” I asked her to go out on a little drive with me. I helped her into the old beast and off we went, into the valley.

“Ever been flying?” I asked, and she shook her head. “Never? Not in an airliner?”

“No, not ever.”

“Nice night out, isn’t it?”

She was looking up at the milky murk that passes for the night sky in Los Angeles, and she seemed lost in memory, some place far away, and I let her come to terms with the moment, come back to me on her own. I made my way to the northwest corner of Van Nuys airport and parked, then walked with her over to the Cessna, showed her the key things about an airplane while I checked on a few odds and ends. Then I opened the passenger door.

“What are you doing?” she asked, clearly alarmed.

“Taking you up,” he said.

“Is this yours?”

“Yup.”

She looked at me and shook her head a little, then stepped up on the strut and into the cabin. I belted her in and closed her door, walked around to my side and climbed in. I talked her through the checklist, explaining everything I was doing, then yelled “Clear!” out the open window and started the engine.

She grabbed the armrest on the door – and my arm – when the entire structure started shaking and vibrating. “Why is it moving so much?” she shouted over the engine noise, and I shook my head, handed her a headset.

“No need to shout now. Sorry,” I said.

“So, why is this thing moving so much?”

“Prop-wash,” I explained. “The propellor is pushing air back over the airframe and the wings.”

She watched as I made little adjustments to knobs and levers, listened as I talked on the radio, then she heard: “Cessna 6-8 Romeo, altimeter two niner niner three, winds light and variable, ceiling and visibility unlimited, clear to taxi runway one six right” – and then we were moving. I was talking about things like ‘departure controls’ and ‘terminal control zones’ and I knew none of it made sense to her, but she seemed to relax, figured I knew what I was doing. She just nodded her head and looked out the window when we started our charge down the runway.

I talked on the radio almost all the time after that, but told her we were flying out towards Thousand Oaks, and there they would turn and fly over the mountains to Santa Monica, and from there to downtown. She would see things from up here she’d never imagined before, I told her, and she told me she felt like a bird more than once, especially when we made steep banking turns – and then she saw a black thing in the air ahead, and that we were going straight for it…

And in an instant we were inside the thing. The air grew cool and the ride very rough…

“What is this?” she cried.

“A cloud,” I told her.

“We are inside a cloud?”

“We are. Yes.” And when I looked at her she was smiling, her eyes full of wonder.

And a moment later, when we popped out of the cloud, she could see city lights ahead again.

“Are we over the mountains now?”

“Yes, that’s Santa Monica just ahead and to the left a little. We’ll turn and fly right over the airport.”

She could see the big marina ahead, and bigger airplanes coming and going from LAX, and then the freeway down below, the 10, pointing the way downtown, and I think it was the scale of the city that seemed most shocking to her from up here. Down on the streets the city feels endless, but almost always the same – a flat and never-ending sameness; from up here she saw a land choked by crowded houses and buildings and endless streams of cars. People everywhere she looked, miles and miles of people, in every direction. A different perspective, yet the same things.

Another steep turn, then I pointed ahead. “Dodger Stadium,” I said, then: “there’s our street, and the park,” and she peered through the window, looked down, saw her car in front of her house and this new perspective made more sense if only for a passing moment, then all was as before. Endless disorientation, never ending humanity.

Yet I think then she understood I knew my way around this weird new place, this world above, and now she could understand why the girls wanted to learn about this world. I explained they had been up in the air for less than an hour, but to drive this route in a car would have taken all day.

‘And on foot?’ she asked. ‘How many days?’

I had to admit I didn’t know, but that I wouldn’t want to make the attempt.

And a few minutes later she saw the ground sliding up, then a bump and a chirp, braking – and we were on the earth again – and turning a little like a car, then ‘driving down a street’ to a parking lot. Familiar things, motions and concepts she understood. Then men outside guiding us to a ‘parking place,’ putting blocks of wood under our wheels, tying the wings down to the earth. A fuel truck pulled up, filled tanks in the wings while we walked back to the car, then we were sitting in the familiar again, driving down the freeway through canyons of people, surrounded by people – all of it comforting now.

“You hungry?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Tommy’s?”

“Si, como no.”

A few minutes later, sitting in the car with burgers and cokes I felt my own wave of the familiar.

“Why did you take me up there?” she asked.

“I think you needed to see the world from the perspective your daughter wants to see it from. See what it is she’s about to learn.”

“Okay.” She seemed to pause for a moment, order the words she wanted to use just so. “I’m a little afraid. Of all this.”

“Our kids grow up. They move on.”

“Perhaps, but it wasn’t always so. Bettina would stay with me, not so long ago. Even after she married. She would stay and have her babies with me, I would take care of her, then one day she would take care of me.”

“Is that the life you want for her?”

She shook her head. “No, I am jealous. I would love nothing more than to face life right now, at her age again, with so many choices. I never had such choices.”

“And she has these opportunities now because of what?”

“I know.”

“The only immortality we have is through our children.”

“What of your children?”

I turned away from that question, from her, from the memory of my boy’s death.

“And?” she asked, again.

“My son was a pilot. My daughter is a physician.”

“Was?”

“Afghanistan.”

“Oh, no,” she whispered.

“How’s your burger?”

“Terrible, but I love them, even so.”

“Nothing nastier, that’s for sure. I couldn’t face life without Tommy’s”

And then she took my hand in hers, held it for a moment. “Thank you,” she said, “for sharing all this with me.”

She hadn’t let go of my hand just yet, and I turned, looked at her. She was leaning back again, looking up at the sky, lost in thought. “It will never be the same,” she sighed.

“Old ways are bound to change when we tear down the walls of our experience.”

“A part of me wants to not allow Bettina to fly.”

“Understandable.”

“Yet if she must, she must with you. You will take care of her.”

“As if she were my own daughter, yes.”

And Rosalinda’s eyes? They smiled at me, and in this new divergence – my world lurched off the rails.

+++++

Bettina folded her legs into the Porsche’s back seats, and the three of us drove to Van Nuys very early that next Saturday morning. We spent hours walking around the Cessna, opening engine cowlings and standing on ladders, peering down into fuel tanks and opening fuel petcocks, looking for water in the gas. Working controls, seeing how they worked, and why they worked the way they did. We talked engines and batteries, how they worked, why they failed. How barometric pressure effected everything from altimeters to engine performance in a climb. How ice formed on a cooling engine in a slow descent, and what that meant when it happened. Endless little things we’d covered in class were poked-at and examined out here in the real world: felt, touched, minds wrapped around, questions asked, and yet it was my job to lead them to answers they already knew.

I was teaching them to think anew, for themselves, to ask a question then look for answers. Independent thinking, I think it’s called. When they ran into a wall, I showed them the door through the wall, or a way around it, but I always led them towards tools they needed to work out the answer. Give an answer, I told them, and it’s forgotten within minutes. Learn an answer and it stays with you for a lifetime.

Then I pulled out a coin and tossed it. “Call it,” I told Bettina.

“Heads!”

The coin revealed it’s ‘head’ and I asked her: “Shotgun first, or coming back?”

“Coming back.”

“Back seat, then,” I said, helping her up, then showing her how the seat belt worked, then I helped Becky into the left seat, got headsets distributed and volumes checked. Becky had been up a few times before and was a little more sure of herself, but this was Bettina’s first ever flight, and her jitters were on full display. I held up the pre-start checklist and watched Becky run through the items, then call out “Clear!” before she started the engine. We talked some more about magnetos and why gyroscopes needed time to spin up, why there was two brakes, a left and a right, then I demonstrated how to make a really sharp left turn, then another, an even tighter turn to the right.

“Now, you try.”

And she worked the pedals and toes, with my hands and feet hovering above my set of controls all along, just in case, but she took to it naturally.

I checked in with the tower, got our runway assignment then turned to her: “My airplane,” I said.

“Your airplane.”

“You follow through on the controls, feel what I’m doing.”

“Got it.”

We taxied out to the holding area and I ran through the engine run-up procedure while I repeated all we’d covered in class, then got our final clearance and moved out to the runway and applied power, started down the runway, with her mirroring my movements all the way down the runway. I contacted departure control, got clearance to make the turn for Thousand Oaks.

“Okay, your airplane,” I said, “climb at 300 feet per minute for 2000 feet, maintain a heading of 2-7-0.”

“My airplane.”

“Cessna 6-8 Romeo, traffic at your eleven o’clock, 3500, Southwest 737 for Burbank.”

“You got him?”

She scanned, then, “Yeah, there he is.”

“Call it in.”

“Me?”

“You.”

“What do I say?”

“How about ‘6-8 Romeo, got him.’”

She punched the transmit button and said: “6-8 Romeo, got him.”

“Now, look at your instruments. Your drifting right and in a descent.”

“Damn!”

“Well, you looked outside and stopped scanning. Can’t do that, kiddo. You’ve already lost enough heading and altitude to bust your check-ride…got it?”

“Yes…” she said, looking dejected.

“And stop the pity party. Get your head back in the game, and I mean right now. Re-establish your heading and the climb. What are they, by the way?”

“300 feet per and 2-7-0.”

“Okay, try 300, not 4, and 270, not 265. See what happens to your airspeed when your climb at 400 feet per?”

“6-8 Romeo, traffic one o’clock, 5000 and descending, King Air en route SMO.”

“Got him?” I asked as she looked high and a little right.

“Yup.”

“Call it in.”

“6-8, got him.”

“Better.”

“6-8 Romeo, clear to three thousand five hundred.”

“6-8 Romeo,” she replied.

“Okay. Gimme two hundred more RPM, increase climb to 500 feet per.”

“Got it.”

He fiddled with the mixture, leaned it out a little as they gained altitude and watched the cylinder head temps until he was satisfied.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“We’ll cover that next week,” he said. “Keep scanning your gauges, then the sky. Six-pack, sky, then again and again.”

“6-8 Romeo, maintain 3500 and cleared direct SBA, contact tower 119.7 and good day.”

“6-8 Romeo,” she replied. “Okay, now what?”

“Let’s try one the old fashioned way. Tune 113.8 on NAV 1…okay, your drifting again. Scan!” I said, then I tuned in the VOR, set the display to overlay an old style VOR needle on the main screen, then swung the needle until it centered. “Okay, come to 2-8-9 degrees, and we’re at 3500 now so cut power a little, and re-trim for level flight.”

“Me?”

“You, you.” She cut power a little, then reached down and turned the trim wheel until she didn’t have to fight the yoke anymore.

“Keep scanning.”

“So many things…”

“If it was easy a monkey could do it.”

We landed at Santa Barbara twenty five minutes later, and Becky almost fell out of the cabin. “My knees are shaking so bad,” she said, “I can hardly walk!” Even Bettina was nervous now, and it showed.

So, I shadowed them as they chocked the wheels and tied-down the wings, then led them into the little terminal for private pilots, a so-called FBO, or Fixed Base Operator, and called a taxi. I sat and listened while Becky exploded in a torrent of excited recall – and anticipation – already critiquing her performance, looking for things she could do better next time. All you can do is sit and listen and watch, pick up on things you might need to go over again, and I did until the taxi pulled up, then I took them down to the harbor and they talked all the while. We ate fish and chips and drank cokes and talked for two more hours, then rode back out to the airport and I told them to pre-flight the aircraft, then followed them, looking over every move they made. Becky sat in back this time, and I watched Bettina closely as she climbed in and buckled up. She moved with calm assurance, there was a snap in her voice and in the way she moved once she was belted in, something I recognized in an instant.

Bettina was a born pilot, and I knew that after about thirty seconds watching her. It’s something you can spot real fast, once you know what to look for.

On our climb-out she scanned better, she could multi-task better, manage distractions better. So much better I knew this was going to become a real problem, real fast. She’d be twice the pilot Becky could be in half the time, and with competitiveness a given their friendship might soon grow strained, or worse. When we were driving home on the freeway, with Bettina in front this time, I looked at Becky in the rear view mirror, saw the indecision in her eyes, knew it was time for ‘the talk.’

We drove to Tommy’s and got a sack of burgers and some Cokes then drove over to the park, and the three of us walked over to a picnic bench. “How’d you think the day went?” I asked.

“I can’t do too many things at once,” Becky said. “It’s like I get overwhelmed.”

“What are you thinking when that happens?”

“It’s like I’m thinking about how I’m supposed to be thinking, not doing it, and it’s a…”

“It’s a feedback loop,” I said. “First you distract yourself, and then you start questioning everything you’re doing. Pretty soon you’re not in the cockpit anymore…you’re flying inside your head, like an a daydream. And you keep that up, pretty soon you’re dead, too.”

I paused, let the words sink in.

“So…what do I do? Quit?”

I shook my head. “Nope. We work on a few tricks I know, to help keep you focused.”

“Like?”

“Actually, driving in a parking lot.”

“What?”

“You’ll see. Tomorrow, after Bettina’s mother tries to kill me with her salsa.”

We drove home a little later, and I tried not to watch Becky watching Bettina, but it was hard not to. Recognition hits first, and hard, then envy settles in, and I knew I’d have to stop this, and fast. I pulled into the driveway and then into the garage, and the girls went in and started getting the house ready for tomorrow, and I went next door, to the Parker house – because I knew Judd was waiting for me.

“How’d it go?” he asked straight away.

“Becky ever have any issues with ADD or ADHD?”

“No,” he said, a little surprised by my question.

“Good, so it’s just nerves. I need to spend an hour with her in the car tomorrow. Some multitasking exercises. Becky and Bettina…they’re competitive and jealous, aren’t they?”

“Since kindergarten. Best friends, and always playing off one another, pushing each other to do more.”

I sighed, knew I had to figure out a way to turn this into a lever to push Becky up to the next level. “Okay. About eight in the morning, my house.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Can do. What’s up with PJ?”

“I hope you aren’t asking me, Judd, ‘cause I’d be the last one to know. What’s bothering you?”

“Moody, volatile. Up one minute, down the next. She ever been to a shrink?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Mind if I take her to someone I know?”

“You asking me?”

“Well, seems she won’t do anything you don’t approve of.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“Not a friend. A department shrink who helps out with other problems that come up.”

“He any good?”

“She. And yes, very.”

“You have my blessing. Need me to talk it over with her?”

“Could you?”

“What are you thinking? Bi-polar?”

He shrugged. “No clue, man. Not my pay grade.”

“Okay.”

“So, Becky? You think she has what it takes?”

“I think so. This stuff comes easier to some than to others…”

“And Bettina? She’s got it nailed?”

“You’ve seen this before, I take it?”

He nodded his head again. “Still, you think she can do it?”

“If she doesn’t give up, yeah.”

“She’s not a quitter. Never has been.”

“You gonna quit on PJ?”

“Nope. Not doin’ that again. By the way, you been by your place yet?”

“No…why?”

“Madeline’s back.”

I think I raised my eyebrows at that. “Really?”

“She had suitcases. Note I used the plural.”

“Really?”

“You better go. I heard a meltdown in progress about an hour ago.”

Madeline and I went way back. She was my oldest sister, born a year or so after me. If PJ was the hellion, Maddie had always been the family angel. She was soft-spoken, demure, brainy as hell and not the cutest girl that ever walked down the aisle, but she’d been the first person I’d called after Brenda passed. She’d married an economist who currently taught at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and she had worked as an administrative assistant of some sort for the past twenty years, wherever her husband happened to land a teaching gig. When I walked across our lawns I saw an Arizona plate on the back of an old Ford Focus and sighed, then walked into a Mexican restaurant.

My new kitchen had been turned into something straight out of Like Water For Chocolate. Cutting boards loaded with chopped herbs and spices, peeled avocados and chopped tomatoes, pots on the stove bubbling away, meats on the counter marinading in pyrex bowls full of complex organic compounds – and there, presiding over all this sorcery: Rosalinda.

“Sure you’ve got enough food there?” I asked, incredulous.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I have relatives in town for just a few days, so I’ve asked them over.”

“Oh, no, more the merrier,” I think I managed to say, black steam pouring out of my ears. I heard wailing from one of the girls’ rooms and took off down the hall. Bettina and Becky were vacuuming and dusting my room, casting wary glances towards PJs old digs – so I ducked that way, expecting the worst.

And there she was, Madeline, curled up on PJs bed, bawling like a three year old. With her head in PJs lap, and when she looked at me as I walked in Maddie flew off the bed and into my arms – and then the crying went off the scale, sounding like police cars in the distance, coming closer every second.

“Divorce?” I mimed to PJ, who simply, and surely nodded her head.

Maddie’s was always the hard luck story, and I don’t know how she did it. She wanted kids, so of course he couldn’t, was as sterile as a cuckoo. He couldn’t hold down a job, something, I think, about him not being a very good teacher. She’d drifted from menial job to menial job, paycheck to paycheck, and even Dad wondered how long it would last. Implosion had been considered inevitable for years, and now it looked like things had come to pass – and the residue was all over the house now.

“Tell me what happened,” I sighed, because really, what else are big brothers for?

Something about despair and suicide and how she was dragging him down, how she had to leave now or he’d simply end it all. So, she’d packed her bags and run home to LA, for the old house, hoping someone would be here.

Boy, had she hit the mother lode.

“Come on,” I said, “I know just what you need.”

We tromped through the house and out the door, piled into the old Datsun and made the run over to Tommy’s. Let’s not mention my farts were starting to smell like chili-cheese-fries, this was an action rooted in dire human need. When a human being, even a Los Angeleno, is in such need, food is an obvious route to succor and solace, but for someone who grew up near downtown Los Angeles, there are few places that scream comfort food more loudly than Tommy’s. If you live in a certain zip code, say 90210, it’s Nate ‘n Al’s further out Beverly, but for the rest of us it’s Tommy’s. Trouble was, my last two meals had been at Tommy’s, and my gut was already rumbling; one more Tommyburger with chili and cheese and I was sure I’d blow like Vesuvius.

But such is the measure of a brother’s love, right?

Need I say more?

We sat in the truck’s bed and munched away, talked about all the times Mom and Dad had hauled our asses over here, wondering how many burgers we’d put down on just this spot over the decades. There were a few more Korean signs on the storefronts than in 1960, but other than that not much else had changed. They probably hadn’t changed the grease they fried their potatoes in since 1966 – ‘cause the food tasted exactly the same that night as it had forty years ago.

So, Maddie talked and we listened. It was time, she said, for another new start, another reinvention of the self, and that’s when what she was saying kind of penetrated the fog.

We’d grown up accustomed to the idea that our lives would be a little like Tommy’s. It would always be the same, too, from one generation to the next, and our lives would be just like Mom and Dad’s. Just like Tommy’s. We’d grown up, probably one of the first generations in human history accustomed to something like this idea we had of the American Dream, but it hit me just then how rare this moment in time was. America had won the war, true enough, but we’d won the peace, too, if only for a couple of generations, and now we expected History was just going to roll over and play dead, that change was all dead and gone. What did that guy write? The end of history?

Wow. What a moron.

This is what change feels like, I said to myself. For everyone else around the world, that train had left the station a long time ago. Change was happening again at a blinding pace everywhere else, but we’d been slow to get back on that train, happy to stay off for as long as we could. And now, here it was, Change, and we had been stupid enough, or careless enough, to think that change was going to happen in recognizable ways. Predictable, even.

Wow. That’s hubris.

Tommy’s was all about that moment, all about hanging on to the past. In my mind’s eye, I could still see crew-cut boys driving by in BelAirs, see their girlfriends’ bobby soxer feet hanging out the window, keeping to the beat; I could still hear the Big Bopper and Wolfman Jack on the radio, so the bangers driving by with Mac10s and trunks full of ‘product’ just didn’t register on my radar. What did register was a brown dude and black guy getting into an argument in the middle of the street, their words heating up quickly, then the brown dude’s friends pulled them apart and everyone drifted away. Until the brown dude got to his car.

A white guy standing there asked the brown dude what was happening, and the brown dude reached into his car and pulled out a Mac10, then started hosing down the parking lot with 9mm bullets, hitting the white guy in the neck, and Madeline in the left shoulder.

I told you her luck wasn’t the greatest.

By the time paramedics got her to County SC she’d lost a lot of blood, and after surgery she was listed in ‘Critical’ condition. By that time, of course, Rosalinda’s first backyard party was a wash, my Sunday taking Becky driving was as well. Life happens, I guess, and it had. Call it another one of those divergent dichotomies, a 9mm cognitive dissonance.

We brought her home a week later, thankful she hadn’t officially quit her job – yet – and still had insurance, and as soon as her husband heard about the event he drove over. They had a tearful reunion, and it looked like there was still some hope there so I tried to help them both along as best I could.

Something else kind of remarkable happened. Well, two something elses.

The first, Judd was as good as his word. He took PJ to see the department’s shrink, and after just one meeting PJ was on a regimen of antidepressants and bi-polar medications, as well as huge doses of Vitamin C for a week and some sort of ‘hormone thing.’ Judd passed-on word that we probably wouldn’t see any changes, dramatic or otherwise, for at least a few weeks, but no, by the time Maddie came home from the hospital I could see little differences emerging.

The second was a little more consequential, for me, at least.

Rosalinda camped out in my kitchen that week. She came over early and got breakfast going before we trooped off to the hospital, and when she got in from work she came down and got dinner going. I, for my part, resumed ground school, with only one class missed. Stan Wood had about a dozen students lined up and waiting for me, but he understood, put that off for a couple of weeks, too.

I opened by mentioning divergent dichotomies, and I need to pause here, talk about the second divergence that came to my life that week.

In the aftermath of 911 my hate for all things Arab knew no bounds, yet for many Americans I think hatred became more pervasive, and perhaps more exclusive still. Us and Them, I think, as in whites vs the world. At least that’s the way it felt to me within a few months of 911. I percolated along the edges of that abyss while first my folks fell away, and then while Brenda came undone. My son’s death, on the other hand, led me over the precipice, and I could feel a palpable anger directed towards everyone after that. Seriously, I was an equal opportunity Hater, no matter the race or gender. I was burning up with Hate.

And one day I looked in the mirror and saw that Hate in my eyes, and the feeling of revulsion was overwhelming. Because now, suddenly, I Hated myself, too, and I remembered looking in the mirror and wanting to claw the eyes out of that motherfucker’s skull. I was full of seething hate, and it was beginning to boil over onto the world around me.

That’s when the whole move back to California thing grabbed me by the throat. The California I remembered, that place I knew I was longing for, that state of mind that had, for us, always been the antithesis of Hate. I knew I had to reconnect with that vibe – soon – and that this was an act of self-preservation…nothing less than a last desperate attempt to turn away from Hate before it flame broiled me, and served me up with chili on top.

The first time I saw Rosalinda’s eyes all I saw was her anger, her own brand of Hate, and I slammed the door shut to keep that Hate away from me. Like an alcoholic pushes away from the bar and walks out into the night before he falls down again. I didn’t take time to understand her fear; I just slammed the door and turned away, so in a way she gave me my second chance. She came back to me, to apologize, to help set things straight for Bettina.

When Rosalinda came to help after Maddie went down, when I looked into her eyes that night, love came to me – like an epiphany. Not lust or attraction. Love, the antithesis of Hate. Reaching out, caring; that kind of love. She took care of me, and us. She wrapped her soul around me, all of us, and carried us past our anger, through our despair, and by week’s end I was so profoundly in love with this other person I hardly knew it left me breathless. She left me breathless. And feeling alive, like I hadn’t in years.

And it was as Spring around the old house again. Love was everywhere Rosalinda happened to be, and when she fed us, her love found it’s way into our bodies. Yeah, sure, PJ was dosed up to the gills on psych meds, but the change was in her eyes too. When Judd came over the night Maddie got back, her’s wasn’t a juvenile love anymore. It was this new, serious thing; now all manifest purpose, not simple adolescent lust. The way PJ held his hands, the way she listened when he spoke…we all knew something was up, some kind of big change had finally hit her where she lived. Maybe she was finally growing up, but if so I think it had something to do with whatever it was in Rosalinda’s eyes.

Rosalinda and the girls had turned Maddie’s old room into a fairyland by the time I carried her into the house. Canopies and candles, something out of the Arabian Nights, and Maddie cried when she saw the results, but the point of all this was simpler still.

When I watched that banger shooting up the parking lot across the street from Tommy’s, I watched someone shooting at my history, my comfort, right in the heart, and I felt my world filling with Hate again. And I found my way away from that darkness in Rosalinda’s eyes.

But I think you knew that.

+++++

PJ and Judd didn’t announce any kind of engagement. They just got in the car, drove to Vegas and did the deed, came back and told our little world what they’d done. End of discussion. By that time PJ was like a cactus flower blooming for the first time. Everyone was in love with her happiness, even Becky.

Maddie went back to Tucson, in love with life for the first time in years.

Flight school started in earnest after that, the girls really sweating academics for the first time in their lives, living for Saturday morning and all the joy that entailed.

A few days after Maddie came home I loaded Becky up in the Porsche and she drove us over to the parking lot at Dodger Stadium, Judd waiting for us by an unlocked gate, and we drove in, set up some orange cones and looked them over.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I began, once she was behind the wheel again. “See this old radio? You tune-in new stations by turning this dial. You try it.”

She turned the knob slowly, moving from station to station.

“Okay,” she said. “Got it.”

“These buttons underneath are used to pre-set a station. You punch a button and hold it a few seconds, then release it. Understand?”

“Yup.”

“So, these cones? Set in a circle, right? Go in and drive around the inside of the circle without hitting a cone.”

“Right now?”

“Now.”

She entered the circle and started driving round and round, and she found it wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be, but she managed.

“Now, without taking your eyes off the circle, I want you to tune in your five favorite radio stations.”

“What?!”

“Don’t take your eyes off the cones, Becky. And don’t hit one.”

Within seconds she blew the cones and we stopped, and I let her reset the cones with her father, look over the scene and take a breath.

When she was behind the wheel again I resumed. “Now, look at the radio again. Look at the buttons, think about how they function, what they do, and what you have to do without being able to look at them.”

“Got it,” she said a minute later.

“Okay, eyes closed. Now, tune in five stations, and see your actions in your mind’s eye while you do it.”

She set about tuning them, and did so quickly.

“Now, open your eyes and reset them, retune five more stations, and this time, look around out there, everywhere but inside the car.”

She did it, and a little faster this time.

“Okay, now back into the circle. Once you’ve got a nice smooth turn going, retune back to your five favorites.”

It didn’t take her a minute.

“Okay, now out of the circle, loop around and re-enter, only going in the opposite direction this time.”

This was harder, but she just managed.

“Okay, stop. Now, do it in reverse.”

“What?!”

“In reverse. Use your mirrors.”

This took several tries, and I started talking, purposefully trying to distract her, but she just managed. An hour more, changing directions, changing speed, changing stations until the poor old radio was about to bust and then we stopped.

“Now, study the NAV COMM panel on the G1000 until you know it like the back of your hand. Guess what we’re goin’ to work on Saturday?”

“Got it.”

“Yes you will.”

She laughed and Judd took her away, to pick up PJ for some time together, and I drove home to the empty house, thinking about which project I might work on the rest of the day. When I walked into the house the kitchen smelled like heaven, and I could just see Rosalinda stirring pots and chopping herbs.

“Do you ever tire of cooking?” I said as I walked over.

She turned, smiled, and I could see she was in a different kind of mood. She turned down the flame, covered the pots then came over to me. She took my hand, led me to the back of the house, to my bedroom.

I think she knew me well enough by then, knew me just enough to let me into her world just a little. She was an astonishing woman, too. Gentle, in the beginning, then as we played each other’s music she went from soft jazz to heavy metal – deep, frenzied, confusing.

We lay together after, she with her hands crossed on my chest, her chin resting there, those eyes looking into me. I’d never once considered moving on after Brenda, really didn’t feel it necessary – yet now I knew something was happening to me…

And really, need I say more?

+++++

These divergent dichotomies of ours catch up with us over time.

I was my father’s son once upon a time, before I was on my own – before I became part of a new binary system. Another woman, Brenda, defined my life for the next twenty five years, our time longer but less complex than the time I spent in my father’s house. Brenda was all about love, the simplest, most powerful time there is, while my father was about unquestioned support, about passing on what he’d learned. Things like what makes for a good life.

Then hate came into my life. Slowly at first, but with gathering momentum. It’s hard to look back at those years because there are so few memories worth holding onto, looking back at. Hate blinds so completely not even memory survives. All that’s left is Hate.

And I found that Hate was a little like putting on a suit of shining armor. It’s hard, beyond rigid, a polished shell covering all our soft, vulnerable parts. Difficult to move around in too, the limited range of motion, I guess, accounts for that. You lower a visor when you suit-up in Hate, see the world ahead through tiny slits and there’s no such thing as peripheral vision anymore. There’s just the one way ahead, and even the parts of the story you can see aren’t really representative of the greater landscape around you anymore. Hate blinds you, makes you rigid, and about all you can do is charge off and hope it doesn’t hurt too much when you run into the walls of your own ignorance.

I put that armor on one day and intuitively knew it wasn’t a good fit, and I tried to cast it aside, turn away from all it wanted of me. Still, there came a time when I saw that cool metal still sitting there, cast aside yet still oh so shiny and strong looking, and I was tempted, sorely tempted to put it on again. But that’s when I fell into Rosalinda’s eyes. That’s when she cleaned my clock and set me straight, when I discovered how little I knew about life, even my own little corner of the world.

I think she was getting me ready for the last act of my life, an as yet unfinished comedy waiting for a little resolution. And I say this advisedly: when I looked back at my life with Brenda, from the vantage point of my time with Rosalinda, I understood I’d gone through almost three decades of marriage absent one vital thing.

Passion.

I’d loved that woman to within an inch of our lives, yet in all that time I’d never felt the sort of passion Rosalinda brought to my life in one afternoon. I lay with her after and felt tugged between two stars, a planet caught in a tight binary system. Brenda’s had been a slow, steady warmth, probably more conducive to life but never too much so; Rosalinda’s was a spontaneous combustion, a cool blue star one minute, then impossible, blinding radiance the next. One had a sensible gravity well, pulling gently, holding me close, while the other went from zero-G to crushing in a flash – and once Rosalinda’s gravity took hold it was impossible to break free.

And Rosalinda’s love, once given, was never in doubt. One hour with Bettina convinced me of that. One hour hearing the real story behind that love left me in awe. Left me reeling in wonder. So much in love I had no hope of recovering.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

+++++

Her mother fled Spain in the 30s, when leftist ‘revolutionaries’ – though legally in power – were challenged by rightist ‘counter-revolutionaries’ – supported by, among others, Hitler and Mussolini, as well as large corporations. It was, in some respects, a civil war between ‘the people’ and large corporate interests, global interests that had vast sums of money set aside to raise new armies wherever their control was at risk. The war rapidly became a proxy war, with Hitler using the conflict to ‘blood’ the Wehrmacht, to get them ‘battle-tested’ in his warm up to the main event, and the Luftwaffe conducted the first large scale aerial bombardments in Europe’s history. The leftists were, of course, supported by the Soviet Union, but Mexico also played a role in the conflict.

When, in 1939, it appeared the leftists were going down in defeat, those with money fled to the Americas. Some to the United States of America, many more to the United States of Mexico – but often by way of New York City, and Rosalinda’s mother was in this latter group. Nineteen years old and by all accounts as glamorous as any movie star, Bettina Louise arrived in New York City one December morning sporting a high fever and severe pain in her gut, lower right quadrant. Appendicitis, in other words, and she was taken to Columbia Presbyterian where a brilliant young surgical resident operated. In the course of her post-operative care, Bettina Louise found out she was diabetic and she fell in love with the young surgeon, a man named Paul Latimer, and of equal importance, he fell in love with her too.

Bettina Louise went on to Mexico City after she recovered, but the two corresponded and their love only deepened. Her father was against all this, of course, and did not want his daughter getting mixed up with some unknown Yankee – from Oklahoma, no less – but when the surgeon finished his residency he took the train to Mexico City and that was the end of that. Paul had no trouble finding work, of course, but with his new family’s ‘connections’ he soon found himself working for the Ministry of Health – and knee deep in Mexican politics.

And of course, as his family’s political connections were ‘leftist,’ they still were invited to lavish political dinners, many at the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. And, of course, as rightist, corporatist powers emerged after the war, they took power in Mexico City, and they began to purge the government of anyone even remotely leftist, or ‘communist.’ Fearing for their lives, again, Bettina Louise’s family fled to California, to Los Angeles, and Paul, of course, went with them. He had no trouble finding work in California because he was a US trained and licensed physician, and his political work was as yet unknown.

Of course, all that was before the McCarthyite purges hit the United States, and within a year Latimer was unmasked as a high government official with deep ties to the Soviet Union. He was, in due course, stripped of his medical license and eventually jailed for lying on his immigration forms, and he died in federal prison under circumstances that remained unclear for decades, having never seen the baby girl born to him and Bettina Louise in 1952.

After the McCarthyite ‘Red Scares’ subsided in the mid-50s, Bettina Louise was offered a part in a movie, and because her family needed the money she took the role. Over the next ten years she worked in several westerns, many with big stars like John Wayne and Gregory Peck, but she was never considered anything like a leading lady. No, she played the Mexican barmaid or the downtrodden shopkeeper’s wife, a decorative ‘extra’ with rarely a speaking part, but because of good looks she was always in demand and she always made good money, enough to buy a house near Elysian Park, enough to raise her daughter and take care of her ailing parents. After her father passed she took care of her mother, took work in an office at Paramount Studios, all while she raised her little Rosalinda. Because she was not simply attractive, she made better than good money in the back offices, for more than a few years, too.

Bettina Louise’s mother passed and then it was just the two of them, and Rosalinda took an interest in nursing after her grandmother’s death, though in truth medicine was really what interested her. Bettina Louise had taken her family name, Rodriguez, after her husband’s supposed disgrace, and in Los Angeles she was regarded as one of ‘them,’ a Mexican and therefore some kind of Third Class citizen. Yet she wasn’t so surprised when most of the locals she talked to didn’t know the difference between Spain and Mexico, or that the State of New Mexico was in America, not Mexico, but she accepted what was and moved on. She tried to keep away from people who, in their ignorance, perhaps, found it so easy to judge, too easy to look away.

In time Bettina retired. She settled in for the duration in her little house by the park, saw Rosalinda graduate from nursing school and begin working at County SC. Her diabetes, always a problem, soon became a bigger issue and she lost a leg two years later, and that marked the beginning of her end. She lived long enough to see Rosalinda fall in love with a physician, then she too was soon gone. The physician would leave soon, too, for greener pastures.

I listened to Bettina’s retelling of her family’s origins in fascinated awe. So easy to see where her passionate intensity came from, her drive to excel. And me? I’d always considered her Mexican, when in truth there was nothing at all ‘Mexican’ about her, or her mother. They were Spanish-American, in truth as European as I, yet how comfortably had I slapped one set of labels on them – not to mention entire sets of expectations – because of a name. A name I knew nothing about. Because my expectations were so hollow, as hollow as my understanding. But hell, I guess you knew that already.

+++++

School had just let out for the summer when our third Saturday of flying came ‘round, and the girls were full of joy, full of all the anticipation that comes with graduating from high school. What came next had already been decided, of course. They were both starting at UCLA in August, so we had some serious flying to do over the next two months.

And I should say I had some serious flying to do too. Stan had me booked up several hours a day, five days a week, usually working with pilots trying for their instrument or multi-engine ratings, and before I knew what was happening to me I was working longer and harder than I ever had before. I mention this as I’d never planned on something like this happening. No, this new life had, quite by accident, found me – yet I wasn’t sure I wanted my life to be so suddenly all-consuming and hectic.

But there were Rosalinda’s eyes waiting for me when I got home, and that made all the difference. Oddly enough, I was really happy those first few years…

I”ll see her throughout eternity standing in the kitchen, chopping and stirring, explosions of life in the air, twirling between the counter and the stove – turning the mundane into something like wild magic. She was a magician. Nothing less than that. She was one of those special souls who make life worth living.

Yet Bettina was now, more than anyone else in my life, the anchor that held me fast to the here and now, and I know that must sound distorted and strange. Where was Terry, you ask, my daughter? In all this had she simply disappeared?”

Well yes, if you must know, she had.

But that was about to change, too.

+++++

She called one day that June, and she was, like women in my life tend to be when she called, in tears. She’d been counting on getting a position at Sloan-Kettering, but that hadn’t happened. She was devastated and needed some ‘Dad time’ – as she called it – but I was no longer just out the Long Island Expressway. I was about as far away now as I could possibly be, and she was in a cab headed to LaGuardia, would be at LAX in six hours…

This, coming at five in the afternoon. With a full day of flying lined up tomorrow, starting at 0800.

I turned to Rosalinda, then elbows deep in pyrex bowls full of marinading something, and told her the deal.

“Tonight? She is coming tonight?”

“Yup.”

“Excellent! I have time to make a paella!”

Dear God: When you have a minute to spare, would you please drop me a note, give me some sort of clue what it is with women and food? Yours truly, Clueless.

She, of course, called Becky, and then the three of them got to work. Kitchen cleaned and ready for inspection? Check! Maddie’s bedroom, ready for business? Check! Bathroom? Ditto! In two hours the house was an immaculate conception ready for hard duty, then the girls hit the cupboards and got to the real work at hand.

Me? Get out of their way, and stay away.

So I drove across town to LAX, got there about a half hour too early, sat around thinking about Rosalinda and Bettina – and Terry. What would happen when they mixed? Two unstable compounds joining under unknown pressures and temperatures…what would emerge? And would anything survive the reaction? For some reason I thought of stars colliding, and wondered what happens then.

My girl looked like she’d just been discovered, near death, in a concentration camp and set free. Emaciated. Gaunt-eyed and scarecrow-thin. She didn’t look like a cancer researcher – she looked like a cancer patient…with about a week to live. I wanted to cry, then I thought about Rosalinda standing in that kitchen – and I laughed.

“Dad? What is it?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about unstable chemical reactions…”

She looked at me like, well, I think you know, don’t you?

And I filled her in on my life since Long Island while we got on the 405, then the 10. About working on the house, a house she might have seen once in the past twenty some-odd years, and about flying with Becky and Bettina. And then – about Rosalinda.

“Dad? You’re seeing someone?” She sounded hurt, disbelieving.

“It just sort of happened.”

“A Mexican?”

“Nope. Spanish. Her father was from Oklahoma, a physician, trained at Columbia.”

“Oh.”

“They’re waiting up, cooking some sort of blowout dinner.”

“Really? Oklahoma food?”

I grinned. “I have no idea, kitten.”

She used to love it when I called her that. Now she seemed distracted and angry.

“So, what happened in New York?”

“They didn’t want me, that’s all.”

“Any idea why?” If she’d been acting like this, I knew the reason, but Terry? Not my little Terry…?

“I’ve been having a hard time, Dad.”

“Hard? Why?”

“Since Mom died. Since you left me.”

A-ha. Thirty one years old and having a case of full-blown separation anxiety? Someone, somewhere along the line had screwed the pooch – and that someone had to be me, didn’t it? Yet in a flash I was seeing PJ in my mind’s eye, hanging out there in the air apparent. Curled up on her duffel bag in San Fran, talking at breakfast about some drugged out cock dangling from her mouth. What goes around comes around, I think I might have said – while trying not to choke on the irony.

“Are you angry at me for leaving?”

She nodded her head. “Yeah, but I understand. You have your life to lead, and I get that.”

“And that means there’s no room in my life for you? Is that what this feels like?”

“Yeah. I know I’ve been busy, inaccessible, but everything happened so fast and I turned around and you were gone…” And she was crying, real off to the races crocodile tears. Instinctually I thought about heading over to Tommy’s, but no. Time for a new tradition, I thought.

A game had just finished at Dodger Stadium and traffic was a little tense, but we were swimming against that tide, the going not too bad, and we pulled into the driveway a little before midnight.

Of course the entire neighborhood was ensnared in the scents coming out of my, well, Rosalinda’s kitchen, and even Terry’s first remarks were hopeful, but stepping into the house was like stepping into another world. Lighting and furniture: perfect. Pitcher of sangria on the table, fresh citrus floating on top. Candles everywhere, the dining room table almost ablaze with them. It was almost five in the morning for the New Yorker in Terry, yet she came alive in all the sudden attention.

Rosalinda had made a paella with scallops and huge prawns, and just to confound things a bowl of her guacamole adorned the middle of the table, and while I took Terry’s bag back to Maddie’s room she settled in, with the girls passing snacks and wine while Terry looked around in a daze.

Unable to drink anything but water these days, I sat back in a fat chair in the living room and watched the night unfold like some kind of lorded paterfamilias, and within an hour it was apparent that Bettina and Terry had suddenly become something like, well, if not sisters then really good friends.

And that was the last thing I remembered.

I woke up at six, feet up on an ottoman, a blanket tucked neatly under my chin.

The house was, of course, spotless.

I showered and was gone before Terry woke, and when I came back a little before noon she was still unconscious. Rosalinda came in after three and Terry was still snoring away, so she filled me in on the parts I missed.

Terry put down most of the sangria in short order, after I conked out, then put down a six-pack of beer and was rummaging around for the hard stuff when Rosalinda stepped in and pumped the brakes. The three girls talked until four or so, then Terry started crying and Rosalinda sent the girls away.

They talked some more after that, until Terry began running out of steam, then Rosalinda helped my little girl to bed. Interesting conversation, too, I think.

Because Rosalinda now knew the lay of the land. The contours of my existence a priori, I think you could say. She finally knew the other Brenda, our backstory, and Terry’s and Michael’s, too. She learned what it was like to grow up with an airline pilot as father, all the nights away, the big events missed. What my son was like. Why I couldn’t talk about him. Even what my parents were like, too. All the million things I’d turned my back on and walked away from.

Rosalinda was always a good listener, an empath full of compassion – a rare combination – and by the time the evening was done she knew what was bugging Terry, what my girl had come searching for.

“And that is?”

“A job, here in LA. Someplace where you’ll be about ten minutes when she needs you. Which will be often,” Rosalinda added. Then she scowled a little – always a bad thing – and she looked at me: “You should not have left her so suddenly.”

“I know, but I…”

“See her, and you see your wife.”

“Yes, but I…”

“Had to get away from the memories.”

“I know, but I…”

“Have yet to grow up, face the responsibilities of being a father. You had your job as an excuse, but now you are free of that. Well, the bill has just come, and it is now past due.”

“So, what do I…”

“I have an interview set up with Oncology on Monday morning. Now the job is to get some food down her, pack a few pounds on her between now and then.”

Terry, for her part, took the position at County SC. I helped her put some money down on a downtown loft, too. About ten minutes away, on an average day, I think.

Need I say more?

+++++

That summer was loaded with divergent dichotomies, more than a little cognitive dissonance, but it passed by so fast.

Terry, moving cross country for the first time. Helping her settle in, learn the ropes of this strange city. I took her to Tommy’s of course, then had to explain, for the next several hours, why her stomach was rumbling like a volcano. And that it was not necessary to apologize, just roll down your window, please, and let the air sweep it out…

PJ.?  Where do I begin? When would it end? She and Judd, on the ropes within weeks. Then we found out she had stopped taking her meds and a whole new struggle began. Got her back on medication and she evened out again, but that’s when we learned a hard truth. Many psych patients don’t like their meds. They devise all kinds of weird ways to stop taking them and not talk about it – until the cake blows up in the oven. Judd loved her, I mean the real deal, and he wasn’t about to give up the fight, but it went deeper than that.

She came home on her bad days, went into the parent’s old bedroom and sometimes she’d just sit there, looking at the corner where Dad’s bed used to be. When I found her on those days I’d load her up in the Porsche and we’d drive out Sunset and go sit on the rocks above the surf, listen to the seagulls before heading in on Beverly, stopping off at Tommy’s for an order of memory with chili and cheese on top.

Maybe the biggest deal that summer came along in the middle of August, on a cool Saturday morning at the airport in Van Nuys. The girls took turns pre-flighting my Cessna, then, after our obligatory coin-toss, Becky saddled up and taxied out to the active. I stood there with Judd and PJ, Judd’s ex, too, a cute thing named Candy, and of course Rosalinda and Bettina were there, Terry too, and we watched Becky make her dash down the runway, lift up and fly a long, extended base, then settle in for a gracious landing. She taxied back to us and shut her down, and after she’d grasped the significance of the moment she bolted out the door and ran – right into my arms.

“You’re a pilot now, Becky,” I whispered in her ear. “And I’m so proud of you.”

Bettina was next of course, and I held Rosalinda’s shaking hands as her daughter charged the runway, and I looked at her up there, so proud of her – proud like a father, maybe like her father would have been – when she turned on final and the landing light popped on. My fingers were shadowing hers, I was feeling my solo again for the first time on a long time. I watched her landing with something more than pride in my eyes, too. I loved her, simple as that. When I turned and saw Rosalinda’s tears, she reached up and wiped a few off my face, too.

Flying was far from over in the little house on Academy Road. Classes were still held every Tuesday and Thursday evening from six ‘til nine – and for the next four years, too. I took them through their instrument and multi-engine ratings, let them use 6-8 Romeo to build hours and hone skills, then they got their instructors tickets. Too soon they graduated from UCLA and both were soon gone, following in my footsteps one more time, both of them into the Navy. Both of them, in time, pilots.

One more thing happened that summer. Rosalinda and I drove up to Vegas after the girls started school, and we tied the knot, made it official. Strange too, telling Bettina that next week she could call me Dad now.

She smiled, told me she had been for a while, if only to herself.

But of course, I’m thinking you knew that already.

Terry took it well. Better than expected, anyway. She had a sister, finally, and that cushioned the blow.

After a certain age, getting old is funny. Like a series unexpected, not to mention unwanted compromises sneak up on you at all the wrong times. Maybe we should expect the unexpected that attends aging, yet getting old is something relatively new for our species. Some people did indeed live to old age even thousands of years ago, but for all our history it’s been a relatively recent development – and I think that’s why most people are blindsided by the changes.

First, things start to break, things like bones, but then maybe your hearing or sight starts to fade, yet I soon figured out that the real killer is losing your sense of humor. If that breaks down you’re screwed, because all the rest barreling down on you soon becomes unendurable. Think of it this way: no one likes a sore loser, and you’re going to lose this one, one way or another. This thing called life…and no matter how well you take care of that meat and bones sack thingy that holds your brain, it will stop working the way you expect it to one day.

Before that day rolls around things are going to start to hurt. All those broken bones in high school, when you were growing up? Yup, they’re gonna hurt. The time you fell and twisted your ankle? Yup, that too. Then the real fun starts. The colonoscopies. The prostate exams or the PAP smears. Maybe a mitral valve will fail or your arteries will clog, or this or that and on and on. All those medical specialties in the hospital? They each represent the myriad ways we can take on our way out of this life, and your options are almost unlimited, too.

I had two other sisters and I’ve not mentioned them as both checked-out early. Deirdre in an automobile accident when she was seventeen, and Stacy, of uterine cancer at thirty. And then there was Michael, in Afghanistan. My parents and Brenda. You get used to the idea as the years roll by, that this is a one way trip and no one gets out alive, but that’s not the point. It’s the time between birth and light’s out that matters, assuming anything at all really matters.

Judd came home one day and found PJ curled up in her favorite chair, only she had breathing. No warning, just gone. She’d had a stroke of some sort, an aneurism up there somewhere, and it was lights out. Nothing dramatic until the funeral, then all kinds of drama.

Rosalinda prepared one of her massive blowouts that night, and all our friends came over a few hours after the services, including half the LAPD, and I cooked steaks out back, just like my dad and I used to. By the way, did I tell you about that?

It was a ritual, Dad and I, cooking steaks. Ever since I was a spud.

Twice a year he bought a side of beef, literally – half a cow – and twice a year we got a load of steaks wrapped in white butcher paper, ground beef, sausages and ribs – half a cows worth all packed into a chest-style freezer he had in the garage. Mom made a huge salad and cottage fried potatoes, and the night before Dad whipped up his marinade, and pay attention here, ‘cause I’m going to pass on his recipe.

In a two cup measuring cup, put about a cup of catsup in, then around a half cup of plain yellow mustard, add a hefty dash of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of soy sauce, a dash or two of Tabasco, some garlic, a pinch of cumin and, to top it all off, an ounce or two of bourbon – in a pinch, whiskey. He had this little bare metal skillet he used to simmer this concoction in, reduce it to a thick sauce over low heat, then he added a little more bourbon and lime juice, salt and fresh cracked pepper and stirred it until well mixed. He’d take six steaks and rub that sauce all over them, wrap ‘em up and stick ‘em back in the ‘fridge ’til cooking time.

When it was time to cook he got his fire going super hot, to cook down the charcoal, and once he had a good bed of coals he’d toss a couple of stumpy cubes of wet mesquite wood on the coals, then toss the steaks on.

After PJs services I cooked forty New York strip steaks just like that, and I’d like to think she would have appreciated the gesture. She rarely ate meat – unless I was doing up ‘steaks a la Dad,’ at which point she became a ravenous carnivore. I had the same old metal skillet, the same recipe, the same brick and mortar Bar-B-Q we’d built in the back yard, and the results were – the same. Rosalinda, however, did not make potatoes and salad. Heaven forbid. Two paellas, enchiladas, empanadas, taquitos and enough guacamole to feed four hundred people. I charcoaled some flank steak and chicken and she made fajitas – as snacks before the main event! Judd called all the local patrol officers over for dinner, and they drifted in one by one, giving me a new perspective on how popular she’d become with all his friends in the department.

Of course Becky was there, Bettina too. Becky, still in the Navy, still flying, and Bettina now with, gulp, United, flying 777s from Houston to London twice a week. She told me she was engaged that night, to a flight attendant of all things. A nice guy who was trying to get into med school, flying to make ends meet when they collided. Becky? Devastated, in the end closer to PJ than she had been to her biological mother, but more than that, she told me: PJ was her best friend that last year in high school, when we started flying together, another thing I never knew.

That’s another thing about getting on in years. You start to learn where all the bones are buried, where all the skeletons have been hiding, but in truth I think I found they’d always been there, hiding in plain sight, waiting for me to get smart enough to figure it all out.

Judd gave me all PJs diaries; little books she’d kept under lock and key since high school. All of it, the cause of all her anxieties laid out in nauseating detail. Her fights with Dad, the guilt my mother laid on her doorstep, how she looked up to me – yet hated my guts because I was the boy and so got all the good time with Dad. I read through them one night a few weeks later and I was stunned to realize how central to all our lives my father had been, yet how peripheral Mother had been. He dominated everything about our lives while she remained in the background, he was always the main course while she kept to the shadows, making her salads and potatoes. And PJs sketches of my mother revealed a troubled soul. Kind of mean, a borderline alcoholic by the time PJ was in high school, the classic portrait of a woman who could have, and should have done so much more. She was a woman who chose to remain at home and raise her kids, probably because her mother had too, and she saw no way out of the deal.

There is a little attic space in the house, and I hadn’t been up there in years, yet I found references to a box PJ had put up there buried in her diary. She’d labeled it ‘Mom’s stuff’ after we cleaned up the house, after Mom’s funeral, yet I’d never seen PJ do it. We’d always kept some stuff up there, things like Christmas tree lights and ornaments, things we didn’t use often, and I didn’t think there was much else up there, so this came as a surprise.

And so I crawled up there one day, flashlight in hand, and I tripped and stumbled my way around the rafters until I found PJs scribbling on a dried out box, and I carried it downstairs to my flight training classroom, opened it up like an explosive ordnance technician might open a suspect suitcase. Pictures and lots of academic transcripts lay on top, some of the things she’d written in high school and in college under that layer.

I picked up the photographs first, most in black and white, though a few were color prints – and those had faded badly in the attic’s heat. Yet one thing was immediately clear: my mother had been a babe. Runner up in a Miss Pasadena contest, 1938, images of her on bandstands at a county fair, images of a sort of vitality that seems forgotten these days. Report cards, from first grade through high school. All As, not one B, not in any subject, over twelve years. Her transcripts from USC, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude, top of her class, an English major. Her senior dissertation, on Milton’s Paradise Lost. Transcripts from work towards her Master’s degree, said work cut off abruptly two months before I was born. Never resumed.

I carried her dissertation to bed that night and read it, all 117 pages of it. I didn’t understand half the things she wrote about – she was so far over my head I felt like a dullard – but I learned enough to understand that I’d never known her in the least. She was this dull creature who kept to the shadows, right? Who made salads and cottage fried potatoes while Dad designed airplanes that carried movie stars around the world.

Madeline moved back in a few months later, after her husband passed, and we stayed up nights talking about mother a lot after that. My surprise was a surprise to Maddie, because she’d known mother quite well. Mother was also, I’d never known, an accomplished pianist, yet father didn’t think that warranted buying a piano, which had devastated her. All kinds of little contests of the will played out between them during our childhood, too, and I ended up with this image of my mother as someone my father had slowly worn down over the years, beaten in a war of attrition, and as father wanted nothing more than a son to follow in his footsteps I got all his attention. The girls got the leftovers, maybe a little more after I left the house to go to USC, yet what struck me was how much the girls wanted time with him. It had to be obvious to him, yet he never relented, never spent much time with them, and I had to wonder why.

I found her diary in the bottom of that box, wrapped in brown paper, bound tightly with old shipping twine – like there were secrets inside she couldn’t quite get up the nerve to destroy – and I thought long and hard about cutting those cords, releasing her memories. I fixed myself a glass of iced tea and went to the living room, sat in the light, hoping to find resolution in her wanderings.

It’s a remarkable document, a chronicle of her times as much as it is about her life. Starting at age fourteen, she wrote a new chapter once a year, on her birthday. She recorded the most important things of the past year, both in her immediate life and the momentous happenings in the world around her. And she loved to write, apparently. She wrote beautifully, too, in handwriting so shatteringly clear, in prose so lucid there was no way you couldn’t see the point she driving home.

Growing up in the 30s, destitute lives all around her, the glamour of Hollywood just a few miles down the road. December, 1941 was important to her not because of events in Hawaii, rather because of a movie that came out just days before – Sullivan’s Travels – which at first seemed to sum up her experience of the Depression. Her own divergent dichotomies, if you will. Stranger still and unknown to everyone in the family, or so I thought, she had been one of five actresses to audition for the role Veronica Lake played in that movie.

Say what?

My mother? An actress? This was news to me, so I read through her undergrad transcripts again. I found the classes in drama, more classes in stage and film production. Oblique references to casting calls at Paramount and MGM. All news to me, so I asked Maddie.

“Did you know about all this?

“Of course.”

“I had no idea.”

“You were never close to her.”

“That’s not true.”

“Oh?”

“She was my mother. Of course I was close to her.”

“Is that why all those years you sent Dad birthday cards, but never one to her?”

I didn’t have a pithy comeback ready for that one, did I?

“Father didn’t want her acting,” Maddie told me with an air of finality, and I guess that really was that. She loved my father, and the idea of having a family, more than she was willing to entertain the notion of striking out on her own. And Rosalinda listened to that exchange with a world-weary, all-knowing glaze in her eyes, like yes, she too knew all there was to know about men and Hollywood, and how choices were narrowed and narrowed until there was little left beyond the burned our shell left by compromise and compliance.

There were more surprises in that box, more cause for introspective analysis and a sense of how thoroughly I’d betrayed my mother, but in the end it felt like some sort of choice had been demanded of me, some forced oath of fealty that I never understood. Some oblique choice very early on. Like I could be either my father’s son or my mama’s boy, and that was the divergent dichotomy that stumped me. Probably the first choice life threw at me, yet even so one I just couldn’t remember anything about it. Maybe the choice was lost in a haze of unconscious denial or, more likely still, lost in some obscure coding sequence in my Y-chromosomes; if so, whatever ‘it’ was had forced me to grow up almost completely cut off from my mother.

Yet a few days later Maddie had one more insight to share, one more bombshell to toss my way.

“I was thinking about it after the other night, and I remembered something she told me once. She said something like she resented you from the first because she’d wanted a girl, someone who could help her stand up to Dad.”

Rosalinda was working in the kitchen just then but she heard those words and froze. Like some cosmic tumbler had just slipped and fallen into place.

Then she turned to Maddie.

“And you just now thought of this?” she said. “This most important thing? Do you want to torture your brother, too? Like all of you tortured your father?”

And Rosalinda ran out of the kitchen. Maddie sat and wept for a while.

Families are complicated things. Dangerous, too, if not handled carefully. Like marriages, families can swiftly move from beneficial love-love relationships into uncharted love-hate toxicity, and I was left reeling in unseen implications after that revelation. Like: when had my mother’s resentment settled in to roost? When she first picked me up and held me? When I suckled at her breast the first time? And had father seen her reaction and stepped-in, tried to intervene? Only to make things worse, to drive her to new extremities?

I reread her diaries after that and the most obvious things stood out now. No mention of me over the years – until I graduated high school.

Then, the only significant words about me in all her writings: “He’s gone now.”

Was that a sigh of relief, or an admission of failure?

What had I been to her? Why had all my sisters wanted attention from my father, attention he was unwilling to give them? Had my mother’s resentment of me fueled his resentment? Not only towards his wife, but his daughters, too?

Is that why PJ made her way to my doorstep in San Francisco? Why the boundary she saw between us was so amorphous, or is polymorphous a better choice? PJ always seemed in a state of flux, pulled by different tidal flows. Had she been caught up in the ongoing drama between mother and father and been unable to pull free? Or had her biochemical imbalances predisposed her to a kind of schizoid break – like manic she took Dad’s side, then depressive she recoiled to Mother’s point of view. If so, I don’t know how she survived.

The point is, I think, she didn’t. Not well enough to break free of those flows, certainly not well enough to stand on her own as an adult. Not until Judd came along and helped her over the bridge, to walk free of the tides to the other side.

Yet now I had to ask myself one last question.

Had those tides affected all of us? And how? Did the difference between PJ and myself reside solely in some obscure coding, or had something else been put in place to get me through?

Mother’s resentment?

Had the walls she placed between the two of us actually served to protect me?

Odd, I thought. Kind of ironic, too, in a ‘what if’ kind of way, because pretty soon I realized there were no answers in these speculations, just all sorts of new, unexpected doubts. Casting memory in these new lights did little to settle the matter, did nothing to ease my mind, because I didn’t want or need to redefine my existence, my relationship with either of my parents, or PJ. They were gone now. Even Brenda and Michael – gone. Why redefine these things? Why not let the dead have their rest?

I remember reading an article about that time, something about astronomy. About galaxies colliding. About how those huge spiral bands interact in such collisions. With all the vast distances between stars still in play, stars within the galactic bands of each galaxy could avoid collision when two galaxies ‘collide’ – or there could massive, devastating collisions. Stars could be, literally, ripped apart, their remains set adrift – until, that is, gravity pulls these remnants back together – and new stars are formed. In the endless seas of space, such collisions are more common than you might expect, too.

And maybe families are like that, I thought.

Random collisions tear us apart, and in the aftermath we reform in other, more comfortable gravities.

+++++

We had a big coming together when Bettina got married, not quite a collision but we had our moments. She’d met this big, garrulous Texan during the ‘meet & greet’ – when your pilot stands by the door as you deplane – and they’d sparked a wildfire and took off from there. Scott Kelly was working for an oil company, spent all his time flying to Africa and Saudi Arabia, but he wanted to settle down some, maybe have a kid or two – his words, not mine – and Bettina was good with that. Sort of. Really, I didn’t think she wanted to get off the merry-go-round just yet, give up her seniority and so miss making the captain’s list, but where women and biology are concerned I plead ignorance.

I thought maybe we could block off Beverly and have a street party at Tommy’s but Rosalinda wasn’t having any of it, so we settled on a church wedding and a street party centered at my house. Most all the neighbors were up for it, and there was kind of an otherworldly, old world vibe about the whole thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone walked down to the church together, and after we walked back up the festivities began in earnest. Rosalinda had set it up where each house had a little party going down and people wandered from house to house, party to party, with tequila and champagne flowing in surreal abundance. As the sun went down the party moved to the street, and the band played while people danced out there under billions of lights strung up across the street. Bettina and Scott cut the cake out there and a roar went up when they danced, and not long after they cut another rug and took off to the airport to catch a plane headed for some island in the South Pacific. I thought the whole thing looked a little like colliding galaxies, but maybe that was just me.

Things got real quiet around the house after that. Like Rosalinda had seen the page turn once again, and a new, not quite unexpected chapter was about to unfold. I think most wives know this chapter is coming, and this is the one they really don’t want to read.

This is the chapter where their husbands get sick and die.

This part of the story begins with the husband feeling a little too tired, then he experiences a fullness in his lower left gut. He’s no longer interested in eating, too, and she gets really scared after that.

She makes an appointment, because he is, of course, too stubborn to admit anything’s wrong. The appointment is with ‘someone she knows’ – and not his daughter, who is otherwise more than competent to tell him he is experiencing indigestion. She takes him to the appointment because she is sure he will otherwise slip off to a movie and come home four hours later, telling her nothing’s the matter.

Said doctor, a man with tiny hands and sharp, ferret-like eyes, palpates the man’s belly and orders blood work and an MRI. Two hours later they rejoin the doctor in his office, a quiet, windowless room with cozy warm lamps all aglow, and the ferret faced man says something that goes a little like this:

“Welcome to the final chapter of your life. You have pancreatic cancer and you’re going to die real soon. There’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it, so why don’t you go home and figure out how you want to do this.”

I mean, really, I could tell you how he spent the next half hour telling me this, but what’s the point? I’d have appreciated the short and quick over all that florid nonsense any day, but the thing is – Rosalinda was in the room too, and she wasn’t taking this news too well.

She was the one who asked if there was nothing that could be done. No chemo, no immunotherapy?

“Not when it’s this advanced.”

“Advanced?”

“It’s metastasized. Liver, lungs, throughout the gut.”

Then there was the dreaded: “How long has my husband got?”

“Best guess, six weeks, two months, tops. Maybe less.”

I checked out after that, just sort of shut down and drifted away. If there’d been a window in the room I’d have gone over and stared at all those colliding galaxies, but really, at moment like this things don’t make much sense.

We walked over to Terry’s office after that, without an appointment I guess you’d say, and we told her the news. Well, Rosalinda told her. I just sort of stood there in a foul, mute humor while the words flowed between them, thinking about how I wanted to ‘do this.’

What the fuck did that jack-ass mean? How did I want to do this? I didn’t want anything to do with this. Leave me alone. Go Away. Take your science and shove it up…!

Go out in a blaze of glory, perhaps? Is that what he meant? Or in a haze of morphine? Alone, in hospice, or at home, surrounded by family and friends? Or maybe flee, run into the arms of desperate measures, waiting con-men and other assorted jackals ready to offer comforting do-nothing measures, for a price? My guess was the poor guy had seen it all, had grown bored with charlatans and quacks. He had science to sell, not peace everlasting, and as I presented a no-win scenario he had little to pass along other than science’s absolute benediction: “nothing we can do.” Let the chorus sing it to the angels: “there’s nothing we can do.”

Rosalinda called the girls that night, and we took Terry and Maddie out to dinner after we talked things over. I, of course, asked for soup and took two spoonfuls, and that put a damper on things so I tried to eat more.

And that becomes the metaphor you live with those last few weeks and months of your life. You try to do things so the people you love won’t be too upset by the prolonged ordeal of your passing. You try to slip away, slip out of sight when the ugly things happen.

Rosalinda, on the other hand, cooked.

People, both friends and family, were a constant flood, and Rosalinda fed them all. My death was not going to be a lonely affair, not if she had anything to say about the matter, and things proceeded along nicely, that is to say I went from bad to worse much sooner than anticipated. In fact, I barely made it three weeks.

Maddie was there, of course, to ground me to my past, and Bettina too, holding me fast to a once and certain future, my last dichotomy. Terry stood back, terrified, and Rosalinda held her close, and the last thing I recall was standing out on an airport runway, watching Bettina come in for that first landing of hers. How I watched her turn onto final and settle in the groove, and how she turned on that landing light. How proud I was of her. I watched that light as it grew closer and closer, until there was nothing left but the light…

And then I was in this quiet, dark place, maybe in a rowboat on a lake in the middle of the night. Stars overhead, vast fields of stars. I saw an island ahead and started to row that way, then I saw my mother and father there, and my sisters, too, all of them waving at me, then stars colliding up there in the night, playing such strange music, their shattered light washing over me as I smiled in Rosalinda’s eyes.

rosalinda galaxy 2

© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | fiction, nothing but fiction…just smoke and mirrors here, folks…so move along, move along.

The knights image above is mine, taken inside the Met Museum in NYC. The image of the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies, above, is a NASA image depicting what our night sky may look like 3.75 billion years hence, when our galaxies collide and combine. I’m hoping for ringside seats, too. Be there or be square.

M104

Oh, know what this is? Messier 104, aka The Sombrero Galaxy, a large, edge-on galactic disk. It’s real far away, too, like 29.3 million light years away, and you’ll need a large scope to see detail like this from your backyard (try this one), but I love this Hubble image as it’s crisp enough to resolve some stellar formations, including globular clusters. Yet here’s the deal: look at the image for a while, wikipedia has a high res image, too. Really stare at it, on a large, hi-res monitor. Then let the number 5-800 billion roll around in your head. As in 5-800 billion stars. Thats the estimated number you’re looking at. An upper end estimate is in the 1.2 trillion stars range. Now, go deeper still. The area of the sky you see here is equal to the area of your thumbnail, held roughly at arms length from your face. And in this area of the night sky there are more than 100 galaxies of similar size that you can count – again, in just this one image. M104 is positioned in the south now, near the Virgo cluster of galaxies, to the ‘right’ of the star Spica and just up from the constellation Corvus. In binoculars it shows up as a very faint smudge, while a 4-8 inch scope reveals a bit more structure. In my Takahashi FSQ-106, I can resolve many features seen here in 6-8 hours of combined exposures.

Happy daydreaming.