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"You almost don't look like the same Travis," Chris tells me after picking up a small mirror with two lines of blow on it.
I take the mirror from his hands. Set it down on the coffee table in front of me, right next to an issue of VICE magazine -- the drugs issue -- and even though I actually think I know what Chris meant by that, I still ask him:
What's that supposed to mean, dude?
Chris swings his bloodshot, pitch-black-circled eyes over to his roommate and childhood friend of mine, Kyle, then quickly back to me, and says, "You've totally lost your edge, man." He sniffs. Swipes his nose. "Your face looks all worn out and sunken in. You look out of shape. You're pale. Pale, Trav. You've been in the fucking desert for a year and you look pale, man. Unbelievable. I mean, I remember when you came back to the city during Christmas break and you came over here one time in the middle of the night in a fucking limousine, wearing a pair of shades with like three scarves hanging off your neck, a bottle of champagne in your hands, totally name-dropping a couple of the dudes from the Brian Jonestown Massacre that you and Laura were hanging out with after a show. And now look at you, man. You walked off the airplane an hour ago with your shoulders bunched up, looking all timid and shit while you were waiting for your luggage at the bag claim. And no sunglasses. It's June and you weren't wearing any sunglasses. Your swagger's gone. That's what I mean, man," he finishes, before dipping two of his fingers in a glass of water and sliding them up his nose real fast.
"Come on, Chris," Kyle says. "Don't be a dick. You should be happy because our rad friend is back from Arizona. I am."
Thanks, man, I say.
Chris rolls his eyes.
Jamming a blue straw that's been cut in half up my right nostril, I snort --
My eyes start watering.
I go, Do you guys ever feel like you're locked inside a car that's moving really fast?
"What kinda car?" Chris asks.
Like a fucking red Monte Carlo with a black racing stripe cutting through the middle of it, and there's some superintense FantÔmas shit jolting from the car speakers, like Mike Patton and Buzz Osbourne just completely losing it, but no steering wheel. The car doesn't have one. And the car is so out of control, right? It's swerving all over the road, and you're crying, pounding your fists against the window trying to jump out of it, trying to bail from it, and then all of these people start popping up on the road, like your parents and your sister and your friends, and the car is playing human dodgeball with them. It's trying not to run anyone over, but it's not slowing down, either, and then some junkie babe pops up in the middle of the road and the car destroys her, leaving her mangled body in its burnt rubber path, and then it keeps on going and going even though it can't maintain anything close to the same speed.
You two ever feel anything like that?
"I'm a fucking coke dealer," Kyle says. "All I do is run over junkies. Night after night, again and again."
And Chris goes, "Nah. I never feel like that. But if I was in that car, instead of FantÔmas blasting, I think I'd be listening to early Faith No More, the Chuck Mosley days. That shit would really blow your mind during a human dodgeball game."
"You think you'd have a choice?" Kyle snorts. "The car he's talking about doesn't even have a steering wheel, so no way that you'd be able to pick out the music. No way, man."
"I'm just saying," Chris snorts right back. "Early Faith No More would be the better choice to listen to in that particular situation. Don't you think, Trav?"
I lean forward. Wipe a thin line of coke residue off the mirror with my thumb and rub it back and forth against my gums a bunch of times until my mouth goes numb. Then I light a cigarette.
"You gonna be all right?" Chris asks me. "You look like your heart's just been ripped from your chest."
Plugging my nostrils with my other hand, I snap my head back and sniff superhard.
I think I'll be okay.
I look at the clock that hangs crooked on the dirty white wall in front of me, just above this black and white poster of PJ Harvey sitting on a bar stool, legs spread, panties showing. It's five o'clock.
"What's up?" asks Kyle.
I gotta meet my parents for dinner soon. Like in an hour.
Chris starts laughing.
The three of us are watching this new Queens of the Stone Age DVD, and when I see Kyle get out of the blue reclining chair he stole from a nursing home recreation room last summer, I say, Yo, Kyle. Will you grab me something to drink?
"What do you want?" he asks.
And Kyle says, "No problem, dude."
Then he walks back into the living room a few moments later in his blue Dickie pants, his white Death from Above T-shirt, his left arm sleeved, his black hair butched with two thin lines shaved into each side of his head, and hands me a warm glass of water.
I take a drink and light another cigarette and look hard at Chris, who's wearing a pair of dark blue Levi's, a plain black T-shirt, and a pair of Vision Wear high-tops, and I ask him when the last time he slept was.
"This morning. What about you?"
On the plane ride here.
Kyle goes, "What happened to your car? What happened to all the shit you took with you to Arizona?"
Sold most of it. Fucked my car up like two nights after I got back to school from Hawaii.
Both of them smile and then I start asking them about what's been going on since I left....
I ask about everyone I can think of.
Cliff: Livin' with his dad. Being a loser. Fuckin Natalie Taylor.
Michael: Gettin' wasted. Destroying meatpits. Lurking on Kennedy Street.
Claire: Being totally hot.
I swallow a huge glob of spit.
Chris starts blushing. He rubs his eyes. Shakes his head slowly from side to side.
"I don't know," Kyle finally jumps in. "I don't see her that much anymore. She pretty much hangs out with different people now. But the last time I saw her at the Glass Castle, she was still looking good, man. She still had that whole Kate Bosworth thing going for her."
It's not a thing, I say. She really looks like that Bosworth chick. Maybe it's Kate Bosworth who has that whole Laura Kennedy thing going for her.
"Come on, Trav," Chris grunts. "Get real. Why do you even care what she's up to? She probably hates you."
I just wanted to know, Chris. What the fuck.
"What happened to you, anyway?" Kyle asks. "You came back for Christmas, flew to Hawaii, went back to Arizona, and cut everyone off."
Things got, ya know, complicated.
And Chris goes, "Things have always been complicated with you, Trav."
Did I do something to you, Chris? Cause you're being a total dick to me right now.
Chris shoots a look at Kyle, and Kyle goes, "You pretty much are, man."
Facing me again, Chris goes, "No, Trav. You didn't do anything. You just look different and talk different."
He lights a cigarette. "It's making me a little nervous."
Well, your jaw's sliding around all crazy cause you're tweaking so hard and that's kinda freaking me out.
"I know it is," Chris says back. "It's been doing that every time I get high lately. I should probably chew gum when I do this shit."
Kyle dumps some more coke onto the mirror.
Last night I called him and I asked him if he'd pick me up from the airport this afternoon but to not tell anyone that he was, which he didn't. Except for Chris.
And he went, "You're coming back? Do your parents know?"
Yeah. But they already have plans and can't pick me up. My dad sounded pretty pissed off.
"But I thought you wanted to stay out there for the summer," he said. "Maybe even do some traveling."
I need to come back, man.
"Why?" he wanted to know.
And I told him:
Kyle, just pick me up.
He cuts two more lines then he hands me the mirror.
Goddamn this is some good shit.
And I'm really back.
£ £ £
The restaurant I'm meeting my parents at is called the Red Tie. I'm already a half hour late when Kyle drops me off at the front doors in his '91 Toyota Camry. He pops the trunk, and he, Chris, and I get out of the car, the Bronx album White Drugs blasting from the car stereo speakers, and we pull out all the shit I brought home with me.
The two suitcases.
A garbage bag filled with DVDs and CDs.
"What are you gonna do when you're done eating?" Kyle asks me.
"What about after that?"
I'm gonna take some Percocet and crash, baby.
"Nice," says Chris, and then I bump fists with both of them and get my things and walk through the tinted doors of the Red Tie. The hostess seems to know who I am right away. She says, "You're meeting the Lance Wayne party?" and I say, Yeah, and she says, "Travis, right?"
"Would you like to leave your things up front? We can store them in the coat check room while you dine."
She motions at this guy, who promptly comes over and takes my things. When he begins to walk away, I shout that I know exactly how many DVDs and CDs are in the garbage bag.
"I'm sure you do, sir," he smirks, cocking his head at me. Then he continues walking.
I turn back to the hostess.
"Are you ready?" she asks.
"Right this way then," she smiles, leading me through the main dining area, up a short flight of stairs, then through a set of doors labeled private.
She stops just short of a large table where my mother, father, and younger sister, Vanessa, are seated, and hands me a menu, and I tell her thank you before taking a seat across from my father, who's all swagged out in the blue Armani suit my mother and sister bought him for his birthday when we were in LA two years ago.
"Well you look like crap," my father immediately snorts. Twisting his wrist to look at his watch, my father, the big real estate GOD, the city's PERSON OF THE YEAR, he says, "But it's still nice that you could finally join us."
"Lance, don't," my mother snaps, in between sips of her red wine. "Let's have a nice dinner."
I don't say anything.
I just stare at Lance. Lance with his chiseled and groomed face.
Lance with his big, successful life.
Lance, who's taking a sip of his scotch, staring right back at me.
I slide my Parliaments out and light one. I'm starting to come down off the coke.
"How was your flight?" my sister asks.
"Who picked you up from the airport?"
"Oh, how is he?" my mother asks, draped in a black Gucci dress.
He's fine, Mom.
"That's nice," she says. "Have you lost weight? You look like you have. Like you've lost a lot."
"Oh come on, Scarlett," my father barks. "Look at the boy. He looks like a shadow of his old self."
"Like a total junkie," my sister smirks. "Totally worse than Casper from that movie Kids."
"Who?" my mother asks.
And I say, I don't look that bad. Jesus. Give it a break. People still think I look good. Real good.
There's a long pause.
All of us look at each other. We all look around the room. I look at my sister again, and I start thinking that my sister looks a lot older than the last time I saw her.
"What are you staring at, Travis?" she asks, adjusting the strap on the pink halter dress she's wearing.
My sister rolls her eyes. Runs a hand through her shiny blond hair, parted down the middle.
Nothing, I say again, whispering it this time, and I flick some ashes into a nearby crystal ashtray.
From behind me, our cute waitress emerges in a white button-up shirt, a black miniskirt, and a pair of black tights. She has jet-black hair and a she-mullet and looks at my mother and father and says, "Now who's this handsome gentleman?"
See, I blurt out, throwing my arms up. Some people think I still look good.
"Like she knows anything," my sister snorts.
"Okay, that's enough," my mother smiles. "Maggie, this is our son, Travis."
"Nice to meet you," Maggie tells me.
My mother sets her empty glass down and goes, "He just flew back from Arizona."
"Wow," Maggie grins. "That's neat."
I smudge my smoke out and open my menu.
"Would you like something to drink?" she asks me.
Whiskey sour. A double.
My father smiles.
"Sure," Maggie says. "I just need to see your ID."
I pull out my fake one and hand it to her.
"Thank you," she says. "I'll be right back with that."
My sister goes, "I'm gonna tell her you're really only nineteen."
Shut the hell up.
"I am," she hisses, sliding the tip of her tongue between her lips. "I'm gonna bust your ass."
You're such a bitch.
"Hey, you two," my mother snaps, jumping in. "I want to have a pleasant dinner, all right? All right?"
"I was just giving you shit, Travis. Jesus," my sister snorts. "Calm down."
I light another Parliament.
"So, Travis, did you pass any of your classes last semester?" my mother asks, lighting a clove cigarette.
I swallow a little water.
I think. Maybe one.
"Really," my father says, folding one arm over the other. "Which one?"
"Jesus Christ," he snorts. "Economics." He says, "You don't even know what you're talking about, son."
I look at my mother as my father continues, "You call me out of the blue to tell me that you flunked out of a school I didn't want you to attend in the first place, and then you show up here, at this beautiful restaurant, late as hell, looking like a zombie, lying about passing a class you didn't take."
"Lance," my mother quickly interjects. "Not here."
"What the hell happened to you? Where did my son disappear to?"
I'm right here, Dad.
"We'll see," he says. "We'll see."
Maggie returns with my drink. "So what are your plans while you're back?" she asks me.
Glancing at my father, I tell her, I don't know. I haven't thought about it. I've been...
My voice fades. And I stop because I don't know how to finish the sentence.
"He'll be getting things in order," my father jumps in. "Maybe the two of you could hang out sometime. You seem to be well adjusted."
My sister bursts into laughter, and my face turns bright red. I feel like an asshole, with my father hooking me up.
"Yeah," Maggie says, her face a little flushed. "Maybe we could."
"Can I get another glass of wine?" my mother asks.
"And another scotch," my father says.
Maggie smiles at me. "Sure," she says, then winks. "I'll be right back with those and to take your orders."
I flick ash into the tray again.
"You know, I was serious about what I said," my father tells me after downing what's left of his drink.
What? About kicking it with the waitress?
"No, Travis." My father goes, "I'm serious when I say you need to get your shit together."
He says, "Just because you're back, around all your friends again, doesn't mean you can keep fucking around. I didn't raise a loser."
I nod. Take a sip of my whiskey drink.
And my father continues, "I don't know what happened last semester, and at this point I don't care. But something will have to change." He leans forward, waving a finger at me. "Please don't try me, son."
I nod again.
Maggie comes back.
My father's still staring at me.
"Do you understand me?" he snaps.
Raising his voice, he goes, "Are we clear?"
Yeah, Dad. Crystal.
"Good," he smiles, swinging his eyes from me to Maggie. "I think we're ready to order now."
After we're through eating, I ride with my parents and my sister back to the house in my father's brand-new Lincoln Navigator. My mother drives because she's not as drunk as my father, who doesn't want to risk being pulled over and at least charged with another DUI.
The house is in the Dove Hills, which means we have to drive through the financial district, go around Harper Square, cut through the Little Minneapolis neighborhood, and roll past the old township housing additions, up to the hills where the house sits, nestled within a huge mass of trees and ridges.
For most of the ride, I don't say a word. No one really does except my sister, who's been on her phone since we left the restaurant. And at one point, while we're sitting at a busy red light across from a downtown Macy's store, she says, "God, Amy. You can be such a little bitch sometimes," then ends her call.
I watch my mother and father look quickly at each other, and then I catch my mother looking at me in the rearview mirror. "Are you feeling all right, Travis?" she asks.
But instead of answering her, I close my eyes and lean my head against the window and pretend I'm sleeping. Pretending until my own cell phone starts ringing.
I pull it out of my pocket. Look at the caller ID. Michael.
"What the hell, brah?"
"You came back to the city and you didn't even call me. Dick."
"You should be, man. Totally."
"So what the hell's crackin'? What are you doing right now?"
I'm going home. Why? What's up?
"Kyle just came by and dropped off a gram of the white bitch for me and I'm about ready to roll to this rehearsal space and jam."
You're in a band? Since when?
"I'm drumming. You woulda known, too, if you'd actually answered your phone or called me back, ever."
Yeah, sorry about that.
"Whatever, man. Fuck it."
What's your band's name?
Cool name, man.
"I just wrote a new song called 'Pound Puppy Cemetery' and we're gonna work on it tonight."
"You should drop into the studio, man. Check it out."
I'm too tired. I just wanna sleep.
"Fuck sleep, dude."
I need to, man. Trust me. I really need to sleep.
"That's cool. But hey," he says, "there's a huge fucking blast going on tomorrow night at this pad on Livermore and Twenty-second. Get ahold of me. We'll get smashed."
"So you're gonna call me, right?"
"Because I've called you like ten fucking times since I saw you in December and you never called me back once."
"You bailed for Hawaii and no one's heard from you until today."
I don't say anything.
"So call me."
"Don't be a fuckin' pie grinder, man."
I hang up just as we're pulling into the long driveway that leads up to the house, and my sister goes, "Who was that?"
"My friends think he's so hot," she says.
What about you?
She smiles. "He's okay."
I put my phone away and stare at my parents' two-story house with its huge basement -- its twelve bedrooms, five bathrooms, and five-car garage, and its hot tub and swimming pool in the ten-acre backyard that's been fenced in.
It's just past eight. The sun is fading fast, although not quite as fast as I wish it would. My mother parks the Navigator in the garage and the three of them file into the house while I struggle with my things.
I finally get inside. The air conditioner is blasting. It's freezing.
Slowly, I move down the hallway that leads to the kitchen and notice that the family pictures that had been hanging along the wall when I was home at Christmas have been taken down and replaced by two odd-looking metallic pieces of art.
I try not to think about this and walk into the kitchen. Watch my father take a beer from the fridge, then walk into his work den and slam the door shut behind him.
Across the kitchen, through the large bay windows that surround the dining room table, I see my mother and sister standing by the pool, talking. I also notice the new portable bar and the new lawn furniture and the new top on the hot tub.
Swinging my eyes back through the kitchen, not a whole lot has really changed in this room since the last time I stood here.
The marble counters are still shining. The antique china cabinets my father had flown in from the Hamptons last summer still sit in the same spot.
Grabbing my things again, I walk through the living room and head upstairs to my bedroom and lock myself inside. Drop my things on the blue carpet floor. Sit down on the edge of my bed, black sheets still unmade from a Christmas visit. Light a cigarette.
Laura. I think about her deep blue eyes, ocean waves. How soft her pink lips were as they slid down the skin of my chest, around the cusp of my ears. About the first time I saw her, fourteen years old, sitting on a faded green bench behind the peeling concession stand at school. The palm of her right hand pressing her blue skirt against the bench seat. Her black socks pulled to her knees. The thin veil of smoke, from the Virginia Slims cigarette she held between two fingers, that swirled loosely around her face, her sand brown hair. The pearl necklace that clung perfectly around the pale veins of her neck.
Laura. I think about the last time I saw her, Christmas night, the night before I left for Hawaii, when the two of us were here, in my room, and had just finished fucking for like the fifth time. And while I ran my fingers over the long, thin, red scar on the right side of her face -- a sledding accident during the winter of fourth grade, she told me once -- Laura told she me still couldn't understand why I'd left the city for college in the first place if I was so glad to be with her, and I said, Because that's what kids are supposed to do, Laura. They're supposed to finish high school and experience other things. Way better things. They're supposed to leave home and get away from it all.
"Well, I'm just glad we stayed together. It might have made us even stronger. It feels like we're past all that petty crap, baby."
She told me she was still happy and that she was going to visit me during her spring break and I told her that would be pretty awesome and that I was glad she was so happy.
I stand up and it still hurts.
I finish my cigarette and walk to the middle of my room and grab a small brown satchel from inside the bigger one of my suitcases.
Unzip it and rummage through it until I find the orange tinted plastic bottle that can make all of this go away for the rest of the night.
I open the bottle and dump its contents into a metal jar sitting on the roundish end table next to my bed, and run my fingers over all the Vicodins and Valiums and Xanax and find my last Percocet and swallow it with a glob of spit.
The way I figure, I have maybe twenty minutes before I won't be able to do shit, so I use this time to hang up the posters I brought back.
A shot of Vincent Gallo.
A promo for the movie Badlands.
And a Stooges one that Laura gave me after she got Ron Asheton to autograph it.
Once I've finished, I empty the trash bag of DVDs and CDs on the floor and fall to my knees and dig through them until I find what I want.
A knock at the door.
Who is it?
It's my mother.
What do you want?
"Will you open the door?" she asks. "I'd like to talk to you for a minute."
"Please open your door, Travis. Don't make me talk to you through a piece of wood."
I push myself to my feet and get really dizzy.
Stepping over big piles of stuff, I make it across the room and open the door.
My mother lifts a hand and dangles a set of keys from it. "A guy at the dealership owed your father a favor," she says. "There's an Eclipse out there. It's yours for the summer." You two don't have to do this.
"Yes we do," my mother nods. "Take the keys."
"I know your father's upset with you, but he's still on your side, Travis."
That's pretty cool to know, Mom.
"I'm being serious, Travis. He's upset with what happened. We both are. But that doesn't mean we aren't rooting for you, because we are."
I know you are, Mom.
Our eyes lock together and neither of us flinches. I wonder if she can see through me.
I wonder why I can't see through her.
"Get some sleep," she says.
I will, Mom.
My mother disappears from the door and I push it shut.
The Percocet comes on strongly, like a black sword slicing through puffy pink clouds. And I get confused about which CD I wanted to play, but then I remember when I see this Stone Roses disc lying a few inches away from everything else.
I grab it. Pop it into the CD player and hit play. Crawl into bed. Smoke a cigarette. Then I take my phone out and scroll down to her name.
I stare at it. My thumb on the call button. My heart speeding up. My cheeks turning red.
But I can't do it. Not yet.
I flip to my side and reach into the end table and pull out a picture of Laura and me. It's a Polaroid, and in it Laura is sitting on my lap. She's wearing a gray wife beater and has an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips, both arms around my neck. I'm wearing a white V-neck T-shirt, left arm around her back, right arm across her stomach. We're also rocking these small party hats, these gold-colored cones that say "Happy Birthday" on them in big, crazy, blue lettering. It was Laura's eighteenth-birthday party. We were in the basement of this shitty Chinese restaurant that I'd rented out, and everyone was there. Tons of coke being passed around. Two kegs of Budweiser. Three strippers. Sitting on a table in front of us is the birthday cake I asked Michael to get her, lit with candles. The cake was decorated to look like Winnie the Pooh, except in this interpretation, this Pooh bear has two black eyes, tinged with purple. Lots of blood drips from this Pooh bear's nose. His left ear has been chopped off. A sharp vampire tooth has manifested itself out of the left corner of his mouth. And instead of the red shirt that has always read "Pooh" in crooked letters, this bear's red sweater says "Get Fat and Die." Or as Michael put it that night, "When the cartoon got canceled, Pooh did what every other child star does when the show they're on comes to an end: He turned into a gnarly drug addict, man." Staring at this picture carves a big smile into my face as I remember how much fun everyone had that night as we screamed at the top of our lungs and yelled over each other and told each other the same stories over and over like they'd just happened and no one had heard them before, everything leading up to the very end, after all the drugs had been snorted and swallowed, the booze guzzled, and the strippers long gone with their residue-covered dollar bills, when I pulled out a gold-colored boom box, stuck in a cassette tape, jacked the volume, and we all sang along to Alice Cooper's "Eighteen."
Feeling my eyes beginning to water, I put the picture away and pick up my phone again and continue scrolling over the names of my past. I scroll past Claire and land on Cliff. This time I do make the call. It rings and rings and rings, and then Cliff's voice mail comes on, and before I've hung up, I've told Cliff that I'm back, and that he should call me, and that I'd like to see him real soon.
My headache fades away and my eyes begin to close and I laugh to myself a few times over, thinking about the joke the guy I was sitting next to on the airplane with this afternoon told me.
Guy: What has nine arms and sucks?
Guy: Def Leppard.
Copyright © 2007 by Jason Myers