SHRAPNEL IN THE SAN FERNANDO VALLEY: Chapter 2

Once We Were Supernovae

It doesn’t matter how fast you drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles or vice versa; in the desert, the highway starts pulling away in the distance in slow motion, stretching like taffy the way time bends in outer space, and the road ahead begins to unfold into forever, especially if you’re traveling that road with my brother.

Help!

We left Dad on Sunday night and Mike was a tornado of stress about his Monday morning meeting—a multimillion-dollar build. I had shit to do, too, not nearly as important, of course, but twenty paintings were due at a Nashville gallery I was newly working with. Luckily, I found an art shipper that came over and took care of everything, thank the baby Jesus (my favorite of all the Jesuses)! Though the convenience of this service was pricey, it gave me plenty of time to kill before Mike would be ready to get back on the road. Instead of busying my mind with my lame, obsessive thoughts, I decided to keep a date I made with an old “ex-friend.” We’d reconnected on Facebook a couple of months before, and in the days before my dad went downhill, meeting up with her was all I could think about. Since I had three idle hours, I went ahead and met her at the Coffee Bean in Los Feliz.

I hadn’t seen Jen in over eight years. She was once my best friend, for a while anyway. We were in a rock band together from 1990 to 1995. Those years hold all my rosewater memories. I am most nostalgic for them, for the relationships I made and the experiences we had. They were my best years. They seemed so at the time, and now in hindsight as well. I’d been a serious drummer for a good part of my life, but I hadn’t really touched my drums for eight years. Playing kind of trickled off after I left the band. Sad, I guess.

We were called The Extinct and Jen was one of the two lead singers. I’m sure you’ve never heard of us, but we had little-bitty tastes of success. After I decided to leave the band, I didn’t see much of her. When I did, it was brief and uncomfortable. We never hung out as friends again after I left. I’d arrange to pick up tape recordings, important tax documents, a videotape reel, or some particular photo, and inevitably, when I’d get there, she would never be able to find what I’d come for. I would imagine the things hidden in her storage space with dart holes in my pictures or swastikas drawn on my forehead. The band wasn’t too happy with me leaving when I did—at the dawn of our debut album release. I couldn’t have timed it worse, so I don’t blame them.

I haven’t been close with many people in my life, but Jen was one of them. It seemed like we had an electric connection, like two stars in space that faced each other to receive the light of the other: inter-codependent twins in need of fire. After sharing intense beliefs, art and laughter, the constant tearing down and rebuilding/repairing of our friendship, I thought we had established something genuine. Something strong. But what seemed to burn so goddamned bright was perhaps just a “wave of energy” that in fact went dead—like a supernova. And now, eight years later, was this the afterglow? I was skeptical of placing my hand too close to that heat.

I hadn’t known trust before knowing Jen. Not really. And when it got broken, it put me in a bad way. I haven’t had a female bond like that since. However, I came to miss her pretty badly and started to ignore how hurt I was, so I friended her on Facebook. The next thing I knew, I was on my way to the Coffee Bean with a million emotions to navigate.

Fucking Facebook.

I got there first and waited at a little table by the window while I watched her walk in from the parking lot. I could feel my heart skipping beats and thought about my dad’s pacemaker being turned off. Predictably, she wore a hippie dress and ballet slippers, though I kind of imagined her showing up in her old combat boots and overalls. While her hair was still long, it was no longer jet-black or straggled. Now it was dark brown with reddish highlights, and brushed. She wasn’t wearing thick glasses either. No glasses at all in fact. She later told me she had Lasik surgery and could see perfectly.

Jen always surprises me with how tall she is—five feet, eleven inches, like a model, and pretty enough to be one, too, even pushing forty. I stood up to hug her and, as usual, felt dwarfed at five foot four. Our hug was a bit awkward, not only because we hugged across a little table, but for the years that separated us. It had been too long. I nearly cried. I was surprised I didn’t. I wouldn’t let myself, even though I’d been living life with my feelings on my sleeve. She said how sorry she was to hear about my dad. That’s when I could feel the waterworks I’d been holding back fight and push from behind my eye sockets. I just kept swallowing.

After five minutes of weird, a decade of shit seemed to get flushed away. We were best buddies again, laughing it up, all of our inside jokes resurrected. But my dad’s impending death was ever-looming above the coffee house. I did my best to focus on the now. Part of me wanted to tell Jen everything and catch her up to speed. Yet I couldn’t. There wasn’t time, I felt kind of chicken, and things were too complicated at that point. We were worlds apart now and our views on death were no longer the same. I skirted the subject when she brought up my dad “dropping his body.”

Jen was a Scientologist and this is how they talk about death and dying. I was not a Scientologist. Not anymore. I hadn’t been one for years. I couldn’t tell her that, though. Not yet. Not here and not now, and not as we spoke about my dying father. Scientologists see death as a transition into a new life. Reincarnation, if you will. I didn’t have time to get into it with her or even contemplate telling her that I now saw Scientology as a money-making cult. I figured her reaction wouldn’t be good, to say the least, so I’d spare her feelings for now.

Before I knew it, it was 4:00 p.m. and I had to get going. I met up with Mike and we took my car. Even though my head was still spinning from meeting Jen, I did the driving back to Vegas.

I knew any future get-togethers with Jen would require telling her about my status with the Church of Scientology, and, technically, I didn’t know what that was, nor did I care. Otherwise, I had a lot of mixed emotions about seeing her again. It brought up the hurt, the deceit, our sisterhood, and our incredibly strong bond. As I drove, Mike unloaded his work-related dilemmas, I wound up “pulling a Mike” on him by not listening. I didn’t care. Instead, I thought a lot about my mid-twenties and being in the band, my two decades in Scientology, and all the changes I’d been through since.

Eventually, he fell asleep and it gave me some much-needed peace. As I thought about the past, the highway pulled farther away from the windshield of my car like a hot, gooey asphalt cheese pizza.

BUY THE BOOK.

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