Standing at the funerary urn at the funeral home I sighed and tried to remember all the things that made my mom wonderful. I would like to say my memories were filled with peanut butter sandwiches and attending to my scraped knees but I couldn’t see them right now. All I saw was the bad times. The hard look on her face we when lived in the two-bedroom shitty apartment in the ghetto after dad died. The way she hated to accept food stamps and welfare so much so she started to work two jobs to dig ourselves out of the whole our father’s death put us in. The way she cried when she thought no one was looking for a husband that didn’t seem worth the tears.
Instead of focusing on the joy in her face when I bought her the house on Elm drive, I saw how hard it was for her to put me into rehab for the third time knowing she had to put that same house she loved up for collateral. Instead of complaining, she boasted about how talented I was and showed her pride in me. She was my biggest supporter and would tell everyone how diligent I was at saving my money to buy my own first guitar, but I knew she put her tip money in when she could afford to. When I mentioned it she would only shrug and say she wanted to invest in my future as if she thought it was a college fund.
It did push me. Knowing she had faith in me and knowing how hard I wanted to get out from under the veil of poverty, I kept practicing. I practiced until I knew how to play every song to come out on the radio even though I never had a single music lesson. She called me a natural, stating I took after my father. True to her word, I did end up like him. His vice was liquor and mine had been more in the lines of drugs, but we were both fuck ups.
Not fooled into thinking I was cured, I couldn’t yet be proud of my six months of sobriety. I thought about it every day too. In fact, I didn’t want to ever stop thinking about what I went through in the sunroom at her house. The seizures, the vomiting, feeling like I wanted to die. No, I would carry it around with me forever. I only wished my mom had been coherent enough in the end to see that I was clean. Just when I got my shit together, she fell apart and there wasn’t anything I could do for her. Shitty how life turned out.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Turning around I saw Chelsea dressed all in black. She wore a little makeup to hide the red-rimmed eyes and pale face. She fell in love with my mother just like everyone else did. How could you not? She was a caring and giving person, even to a fault. She should have let me go years ago but couldn’t give up her only son. The one that reminded her of her husband.
Ryder stood next to her and it didn’t escape me that Brandt didn’t attend with them. If I had to guess, he probably didn’t even know they were here. Ryder, the drummer in the band I inhabited before I was kicked out by Brandt, the lead singer, still supported me even though I made a mess of my life.
Although the band was everything to me, it still wasn’t enough to make me quit the drugs. I thought I had it under control, well mostly, while we were out on tour but coming home and sitting around made things worse. Much worse. I needed something to do. I couldn’t sit still before and now it seemed almost more dangerous to be idle.
The band’s demise wasn’t Brandt’s fault though. Band sales declined steadily and even our own record company let us go to fend for ourselves, already slatted as behind the times. It pissed me off really knowing how much money we made them. Spending our lives touring around the country and internationally, winning awards, and being sought out as the band to see. We went from the top of the world to the point where no one wanted to touch us. That was when the drugs got the worst, and they kicked me out of the band. Well, that and having the bass player, Quade Sandusky, find out I fucked his wife and fathered his child. Yeah, that might be the reason too. Social Offender clawed to the top of rock stardom. It felt as though we were untouchable but it only made the descent worse to take when we hit bottom.
As it was in my own life I could almost make out the light at the top of the hole I dug for myself. I ran into the owner of Linead Records, a small record company that took a chance on us when we were first starting out. We left them after our breakout record for bigger and better, and thinking back on it, it had been a shitty thing to do but a manager at a larger company schmoozed us and took advantage of our naive nature promising us dollar signs we thought we couldn’t pass up. Running into Victor Atwater at a restaurant was quick and pleasant. We didn’t start talking again until I noticed him in the back of the room at a support group meeting for ex-drug users.
Evidently, I wasn’t the only one hooked on the shit and faced with clawing my way out. He understood all too much of how the rock and roll industry worked and tried to dig himself out, albeit his fight started earlier than mine and he was well on his way to being clean. He and his record company still struggled to keep afloat and keep up with the trends in the industry. Offering me a job on a trial basis, he had this group of kids who needed a mentor. They needed to refine their skills so they could sell their music and learn to cope with what the future held for them. Like most new bands they were eager but explosive. It worried me to get back into the thick of things but Vic told me he didn’t tolerate drug or alcohol use, and he liked this band, liked the kids, and wanted to help them out. And if he made a bundle on the way, he would handle that as well. I couldn’t argue with his way of thinking and accepted the job. It ended up being a godsend as it gave me a much-needed focus as well as started a change to my cash flow problem.
Remembering the hell I put Chelsea through hurt. Knowing Ryder still supported me even though I fucked up so many times hurt just as bad. “I am doing fine. Just another day.”
Chelsea saw my indecision and I knew what bothered her. “Don’t worry. I’m still clean and sober.” She dropped her eyes as did Ryder. I couldn’t say I blamed them for thinking every new shitty thing in my life would send me over the edge, but I held on day by day. Her words from my detox still rang in my head. Kids did change things even if that same kid had no idea I was his father.
I didn’t want Jaeger to find out. There was no reason for him to know. Not even if I handed him two kidneys and a lung. I wanted him to think it was just a good coincidence I had been a perfect match for him. As far as I knew, Quade thought that way too. Good. He deserved a father who wasn’t a fuck up. He deserved Quade.
“JJ, I’m not worried. I know you have this beat.” Always the positive person, I nodded my head at Chelsea’s optimism more for her benefit than my own.
“How are the girls?” Ryder looked around for my sisters. There was a time when we were all close. He hadn’t distanced himself from me like the rest and I often wondered why? Yes, we were friends, but friends didn’t break up bands and act like assholes, and he had every right to blame me.
“Bonnie is in the back with the pastor and Tabitha has the kids outside running around before the prayer service.” A handful of people congregated inside. Some of the staff from the nursing home we left her to die in. A friend from the neighborhood, and a few distant family members I hardly remembered. Not much to show what a wonderful person she was.
Just then the pastor walked in with Bonnie, and she nodded at me. “We need to start.”
Ryder and Chelsea walked with me to the seats as I noticed Tabitha and the rest of her family take the chairs across the aisle from us. Chelsea sat between the two of us and as the prayer service started she closed her hand in mine. The small act made me despondent. I have closed myself off for so long that a simple touch could make me more sad than happy.
At the end of the service, I quickly gave my appreciation to Chelsea and Ryder before they went to leave. Chelsea brought me into an embrace. Hugging was never my forte but it almost felt right and I held her just a little longer than I probably should. She leaned in to whisper, “She would have been so proud of you.” Tears stung the back of my eyes but I let go and looked down avoiding her stare as Ryder clapped me on the back.
They left the funeral home as Bonnie came up behind me. Sighing heavily, I turned to her, “I want you to take the house.” She quirked an eyebrow up at me but let me continue, “I want you to live in it with Jeremy and Lucy and get them out of your neighborhood. They both need to go to better schools and get Jeremy away from those people he hangs out with.”
She turned away, “I don’t think it will help.”
“I don’t care. It is a better house and it is something.”
She sighed, “Tabitha won’t be happy if I take the house. She hoped for us to sell it and split the money.”
I shook my head, “Tell Tabitha she will get her share of the money. I have a job now and have been paying down mom’s second mortgage. Given some time, I can pay Tabitha off too.” She looked at me questioning. She knew I took the producer job back in the music industry but didn’t think it was healthy for me, thinking I was one step away from fucking up again.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got the money coming in now. You helped me and I can help you like I promised.”
“I don’t need your money JJ. I just need my brother back. Somehow you must have snuck back without me seeing.” A smile played at the corner of her lips and I enjoyed seeing it there. She had been looking so tired for so long I just wanted to do right by her.
Taking my hand she squeezed it, “The kids would love for you to come around more too. Jeremy needs a good role model like you.” It touched me more than I would admit and as we walked out of the funeral home I thought I just might come over for a meal of two.