I was waiting for the bus clutching a black dress, a sleeping bag and five layers of clothing and valium: wise from having previously spent a frigid evening on the same bus a year earlier, so cold I couldn't sleep, forced to listen to an aging animation artist who told one too many "sexy" jokes. I was in no condition to spend a night awake on this bus.
This green tortoise trip was commencing 17 hours after finding out that my ex-boyfriend had died in a motorcycle "accident" on Highway 1. A definitive finale to the series of motorcycle "accidents" that had begun to pepper his increasingly sad and nihilistic existence. Services would be on Saturday. They called me Thursday. Without thinking I bought a ticket for the all night hippiefest caravan on Friday night with the intention of paying my respects and discussing "details." Does this sound cold? I don't mean it to. But death has it’s own set of logistics that have little to do with life.
I was anxious and was seriously considering that valium when I saw a man rounding the corner towards the bus. My reaction was nothing short of instinctual. Biological and guttural. Euphoric, even. Does that sound crazy? What I felt was less akin to attraction than relief. And this was before I had even seen his face. It was something about his walk, the way he was dressed, his movements, they made sense. I mean, I guess that is the way it always goes. It’s those details that affect the instincts that make our bodies react with such recognition.I'd be lying if I didn't also say that this man, towering at 6ft6, didn't remind me, just a bit, of the very person I was traveling to pay my respects to. Tommy, also larger than life loomed angular and rangy at this same height. I've lived my life a bonsai lady in a world of sequoias. We humans seek comfort in such odd forms.
I’m a talkative person if I like what I see, but stuck next to someone more than overly talkative the first leg of the trip I’d had more than I could take and zoned out and caught glances of the tour book the man was reading. He was traveling to New Zealand soon. So I was I. Yes, we could swap information. We had discussed this while boarding the bus. I had made a lame attempt to sit next to him but had been upended by a much more agressive girl. He shot me a look. Did I want to be rescued from chatty cathy dreadlock boy?
He would rescue me.
He smiled broadly without an attempt at mystery.
I excused myself.
I rescued myself.
I crawled across the communal bed and sat next to him. There I stayed the rest of the trip.Hours of strange namedropping and unusual coincidences revealed the same hometown, more than a few close mutual friends, and a remarkably similar past. My past entertwined with this man to the point of intimacy. Hours later I pulled the first decidedly aggressive sexual meneuver of my young existence. A uniquely unsubmissive move of reaching out, in the dark, and kissing him. I think I started by searching for his hand..doing that delicate hand holding dance that I always associate with the nervous moments before a first kiss. This was, ofcourse, in the communal bed. And it was something I knew he wanted me to do but would not do himself. We kissed for 5 hours. I never mentioned the funeral or the death or the purpose of my trip. I still know him, I’ve still never conveyed the details of our acquiantance or the uncommoness of such sexual agression for me. Somethings are better left half-baked.
I got off the bus with his email address and notions of crossing paths in New Zealand.
Santa Barbara at dawn has the lazy comfort of a mexican bordertown. That feeling of endless time and space. This period of time lasts exactly 45 minutes from sunrise. Then the people begin to awaken and it turns into Southern California like a rotten pumpkin.I walked 3 of the 4 miles it would take to get me to my parents home without realizing that I had forgotten to call my parents and tell them I was going to stay with them. I called Jason instead. Jason had been Tommy's best friend. He had arrived several hours earlier on a flight from Italy. He, too, had not been home yet. He had been driving around in a Ferari his parents had bought him years ago in an attempt to keep him home. They had left it the night before in short term parking at the airport,knowing how little he liked receptions.
Welcome to Santa Barbara.
I waited, perched on a virgin mary statue being used as road block and temporary place holder for some road signs. The city planning department had noted that people would drive right over the this roadabout circle if it was left barren. Right through the center and over those flimsly reflective stips. Whap! Fuck traffic signs. Roundabout? This was America! The virgin mary, towering in a small mountain intersection roandabout, was there to make sure they didn't try it. And there I waited. Perched in her arms, five layers of clothing. a sleeping bag and a black dress. Bonsai lady waiting for a wayward fashion model in a fast car to rescue me from my euphoria and confusion.
Jason was a queer dude. I dont mean that literally (although at times I believe the double entendre can hold true) but ..strange. Kinda perfect. But oddly perfect. I dont say this because he was my frist love.Which he was. Though not my first fiance. My first fiance’s best friend, ofcourse. But that was just my life. Jason was just kinda blessed.Sort of preternaturally beautiful, graceful and oddly sweet. Strangely cocky in a harmless way that made even grandmothers swoon.The blacksheep of a famiy with some rather questionable business practices and a determinedly low profile. Loaded to the gills before he ran off to another country to be a dancer, much to his fathers chagrin. Have you met my son, the ballerina?It wasn't the beauty or wealth that made Jason weird so much as his odd immunity to it. Jason carried with him an odd sense of royalty and yet an overpowering sense of normalcy. He was oddly sane and it frequently made him sad and frustrated. Jason did not believe he deserved a lick of anything. "Odd coincidence of genetics" he would say when the ladies would gather, he’d point to his face (a dead ringer for his fathers)..."you think I’m cute? you should see my dad". Jason had a brief stint as a CK1 model in which he put away enough of his “own money” during the heroin chic days to leave the pampered world of his family behind. He had left college and anyone who cared and run off to a world in which he believed people were less likely to be impressed by the unearned facets of his being he found so irrelevant. He had, ofcourse, been deeply dissapointed. Jason was prone to dissapointment.By then we were more penpals then a couple, but it was still sad to see him go.Jason had rescued me, years ago, at 16. Found me in the public library and made a spectacle of himself . Gotten us both thrown out of a library. Followed me home and shown me there was more to life than just my own self-pity. A fashion model and an awkward duckling. Bonsai and seqouia. He was the first in the forest. I know. I know. It sounds dramatic. Overly romantic, silly and simpering to say a man “rescued me.” But there I was trembling in my own shadow when I met Jason, a man whose shadow was so enormous it eclipsed my own and brought me into the light. Was I pathetic? Yes. Was that what happened? Yes. Yes again. I feel no shame in my grattitude. His appreciation gave me my frist glimpse of myself.So I sat there at our lady of holy intersections, waiting to be saved again.
Jason screeched to an innapropriate halt in the middle of the intersection, but with deference to the roundabout, cutting off several SUVs already, in the wee hours, on their ways to their grande lattes and king mochanchinos. I guess this was Jason looking haggard. “Get in, we both need to sleep.” I did as he said. He knew best.
Jason had a treehouse on his family’s property. More of a tree estate, to he honest. Tommy and he had played there as children, and it had turned into the appropriate place to take girls and drugs and beer when they got older. Jason was a recovering cocaine addict at the ripe age of 17, when I met him. Jason’s dissapointment was well earned. At any rate, they had spent alot of time in this treehouse. His rapid departure from our home town and rare visits home had left the fortress pristine. Photos and mattresses and paraphanalia strewn throughout. I hadn’t been in here since I had started up with Tommy. That was how Jason referred to it. “Started Up.” To be fair, this had happened after Jason’s flight had left us both, hating eachother, in a hometown we both despised. We had gotten over the hate. This had put a rift, for years, between Jason and Tommy. Sitting here, in the tree house, it was easier to remember the 3 of us doing exactly the same. THe issues and betrayals faded into the background. For the first, and only time that weekend, I cried. Because he cried. We curled up on a dusty mattress and slept.
From this dusty and nostalgic cacoon we went straight to the funeral. But I wont take you there yet. Funerals are about the dead, and the dead have no signficance without a life to make their absence of import. Life before death. A place for everything and everything in its place. So, something about Tommy, in life, not in death.And there is alot I could say but in my world of complete and utter disclosure some things are still sacred. As I said, I met Jason in the public library. He was on a day pass from boarding school to do research. I met Tommy that day as well. Nobody could argue that he was studying. He was, infact, simply staring at a pillar on the wall and no doubt altered with a substance I could not pinpoint. I never asked and to be honest wonder at odd moments what exactly it was. My main concern was Jason, though Tommy was a difficult person to ignore. An odd northern european blend of discent left him with the blondest hair I have ever seen on a person blessed with pigmentation, and his lankiness made him seem ten feet tall. But I never really got to know Tommy until Jason truly left. Sure, I spent time with him. To spend time with Jason was to spend time with Tommy. They were like brothers. They were playmates. He spoke about him incessantly. I saw Tommy through Jasons eyes. His complete lack of regard for others tempered by his love for his best friend. His intellect and complete lack of temperence. His predilection for women, sometimes two or three in a night, and an almost preternatural gift for such wooing. To say that Tommy was a convincing cassanova understates his influence. Tommy was a convincing salesman of himself, anything, or anyone. Period. To this day I have never met a person who had such a natural gift for assessing other’s wants and needs, and finding a way to convince them he met such desires.He was convenient to have as a friend. But clearly not much of a friend to many. Perhaps you cant see people that clearly and like very many of them. Maybe you always want what you can not have and Tommy had simply found most people could be had. Perhaps you need to be uniquely selfish to be just that removed from the true spirit of communication. I don’t know.
Years later a well educated man tried to convince me that Tommy was a sociopath. I never believed that. Even if I could divorce myself from the belief that Tommy loved me, I knew he had loved Jason. Not a sociopath. Just exhausted by the emotional commitment that went along with so many halfwrought bonds. Just distrustful, and with reason. But thats another story.
Tommy came to my house a few days after Jason had flown the coup. What had seemed an ideal and innevitable next step to me had been tantamount to abandonment for Tommy. It was the first time we had really talked and we talked for seven hours. I was a friend by proxy, I gathered. As I had seen glimpses of Tommy through Jasons eyes, I had know inherited respect and intimacy through jasons departure. We humans seek comfort in the strangest places.
Tommy proposed to me infront of his entire family and all of their friends. So I said yes even though I knew the answer was no. And I stuck with it for a while bacause part of me liked this fabrication. We both liked the fabrication and saw it as such. I never told my parents. I never have.I had put the ring in a vaultbox before getting on the bus. I had kept the ring. There had been no choice. One of the “issues” that becomes a detail of death, it seems.
Other things about Tommy. He was obsessed with the Who. He had a beautiful voice and would call me up at midnight and sing to me when I couldn’t sleep. And somehow it wasn’t cheesy. He was a snappy dresser. He owned 12 VW buses that he painted political murals on. And somehow this wasn’t cheesy either. He was in graduate level chemistry courses even though he was an undergraduate political science major. He never bothered to graduate. He had slept with over 300 women. For years of our romantic relationship this did not include me.
Tommy in life and not in death.
Tommy in death had an open casket. Something I refused to look at and Jason never should have attempted to view. People under the age of 50 should be last seen in life. There I said it. Is that agist? I am flexible with teh exact age. But, smooth skin should not be made to look alive in death. Thats how I feel.Thinking about it now I realize I can not remember the event well enough to convey the true sense of it’s presence. It was big. It was lavish. They wanted the ring. They didn’t get it. Though that ring was worth more than I was, Tommy had implied that I should have more of what was his.Which was alot. I gave all that up for a ring which sits in a vault to this very day. And I can not imagine another course of action.Was all this indelicate to bring up at a funeral? Ofcourse. This was not a delicate family where I was concerned. Or Jason, it seemed. As he made a scene. And got us kicked out, again.Well, not really. but it felt that way. And I like full cycles.
Jason could not drive. He was upset. Jason was a very emotional guy. I get behind the wheel of a car worth more than me and pulled onto a windy mountain road without a license. I hadn’t driven in years. People stared and I thought it was the driving. No doubt my complete lack of skill on stick shift had something to do with it, but I burst into laugher when I realized what had also caught their attention was the fuzzy lady in the gaudy sportscar with the weeping fashion model riding shotgun.
And there you go. I mean, there is more. About Jason. About Tommy’s memory. Even about the man I met on the bus. But even in fits of disclosure some things are sacred.