Chapter 25: Distance
Juanita: She is not a bad kid.
Sandy: She is driving me crazy.
Juanita: You’re driving her crazy.
Sandy: Whose side are you on?
Juanita: The side of true love.
It is the day before Halloween and Juanita is busy making Halloween costumes. Sandy came over to help.
Sandy: I don’t know what love has to do with it. Missing Frank is no excuse for how she is behaving.
Juanita: She’s not just missing Frank. She thought she was going to have a father figure in her life. Now she doesn’t.
Sandy: She can’t miss Dwayne more than I do.
Juanita: That’s part of the problem. She is also missing you the way you used to be. Now you’re just irritable all the time; angry, and grouchy. I’m kind of missing you the way you were, too.
Sandy: I’m horny as hell.
Juanita: Since you and Dwayne aren’t in a committed relationship, why don’t you just find yourself some 34 year old to fuck?
Sandy doesn’t answer. Juanita tells her to go stir the posole and bring back more margaritas. Juanita couldn’t believe it when Sandy told her Dwayne had proposed and she had said no. Sandy would say she hadn’t said no. She said not now. Sandy hasn’t been herself since.
At first Dwayne called her every day. He took pictures of scenery on the journey home to send to her. He wrote poetry about her. It seemed the long distance relationship could work. In September they had started talking about visits. Dwayne was auditioning for band members, rehearsing, recording and they had the Austin City Limits thing. Wouldn’t it be easier for her to fly out on her days off? Even for just two days? But Sandy was having problems with Isadora. Daily phone calls with Dwayne had shifted to weekly awkward calls where they didn’t have much to say except I miss you.
Juanita: You should just go ahead and move to California.
Sandy: We’re going over Thanksgiving. Isadora is going to ride up North with Frank to meet his parents and I will spend Thursday and Friday with Dwayne. I work on the Saturday and Sunday.
Juanita: You should tell him you want a do over. Tell him to ask you to marry you again and say yes.
Sandy: It’s not that easy.
Juanita: It’s not as hard as you’re making it.
There are days when Sandy agrees. The last two months have been Hell. Isadora made some new girlfriends. There were nights when Sandy would get calls at the bar from neighbors. Isadora had snuck out or they could smell pot coming from the condominium. One night she left work early to surprise Isadora and Isadora and her friends were at the condominium drinking. Sandy isn’t sure what to do, but is worried about her. Sandy feels like she needs constant monitoring.
Juanita: What is Isadora going to be for Halloween?
Sandy: Flamenco dancer so she can wear the outfit from the summer.
Juanita: At least she’s in love with a boy from out of state, so even if she is a little wild she won’t get pregnant.
Sandy: I’m in love with a guy from out of state and you just told me to go find someone to fuck. How can you be so sure Isadora won’t screw around with someone else?
Juanita: Because unlike you, she believes in love.
Sandy: Why does everyone keep saying I don’t believe in love?
Juanita: Sandy, with everything you told me, you had the world’s most romantic, epic love story. Soulmates, destiny! A handsome, smart, charming guy! It ends with him asking you to marry him. How do you not say yes?
Sandy: I don’t know.
Juanita: Fear of happiness.
Sandy: What if I said yes and we married and I was unhappy.
Juanita: How would that be different than now?
Sandy: Because now I can say I’m not happy because I said no, but if I said yes and we were unhappy then I would know that happiness isn’t possible.
Juanita: What if you said yes and was happy? You are the most stubborn woman I know.
Sandy thinks about that “Paracelsus” poem. She is still too stubborn to utter up a prayer upon death. In her mind, when Sandy thinks about marriage she equates it with the death of her independence. She still doesn’t believe the prayer would be answered.
Early Halloween night Sandy makes a video chat call with Dwayne so he could see Isadora and her in costume. Dwayne and Isadora fall immediately into an easy joking and rapport. Juanita might be right that Isadora was angry and acting out because Sandy hadn’t provided her the father figure she craved. Isadora rushes away to a party. Sandy tells Dwayne she can’t talk long because she has to get to the bar. She puts on her cowboy hat and shows off her costume. Dwayne asks where her rhinestones are and she laughs. “Where’s your costume?” Dwayne says he is going to spend the night at the hospital with Alex. The good news is that Alex will be out of the hospital and able to have Thanksgiving dinner with them when she flies out.
It has been a busy couple of months for Dwayne. His new bassist is a rock musician from England. He is eager to learn more of a Western style. He is a bit of an amateur historian and encourages Dwayne to tell him about Americana music. Dwayne had been hesitant at first about hiring a rock bassist, but, after Alex had seen Dwayne and him talk for an hour about the British sixties invasion, Alex had encouraged Dwayne to select him. It will give him someone to talk to on the bus. The new guitarist was a little more of a struggle until Fred asked him to audition his new girlfriend, Donna. It was ridiculous; a twenty- three year old girl, but then Dwayne heard her. Americana through and through. She also played the harmonica. She kept calling him professor. Alex said she would do as well. Alex acted as if he was still in charge and Dwayne mostly let him.
Alex and Dwayne had appeared live at Austin City Limits. It was hard to believe Alex was sick at all, but by late September, while recording the album, Dwayne began to calculate what songs Alex was going to play on and how to spread recording them out so he wouldn’t be so tired. The last song they recorded was “The First Time”. When they were through and putting away the instruments, Alex said, “That’s the last time.” Alex hasn’t picked up an instrument since.
The album was released on October 25th. It already had some critical acclaim and was receiving lots of play. There were talks of a CMA. It is a great first album. Alex went into the hospital on October 26th. The new band manager stopped by the hospital to talk about tour dates and television engagements. One of the late night talk shows wanted to book the band. Dwayne said he would fire him the next time he disturbed him at the hospital. He thought Alex was sleeping. He felt Alex grip his arms. Alex said to begin the tour on New Year’s Eve in Vegas. Dwayne told him no, damn him. Alex said there wouldn’t be anything keeping him in California come New Year’s.
Thanksgiving, Isadora and Sandy arrive on a morning flight. Sandy kisses Isadora good-bye as Isadora’s climb into Frank’s car and then Sandy grabs a taxi to Alex’s apartment. Dwayne has ordered in Thanksgiving dinner for the three of them. Sandy enters the apartment as she knocks. There is a football game on the television. Dwayne is in the kitchen wearing a chef’s apron. Alex is sitting on the couch in striped pajamas. He stands up as she enters and she crosses to him and hugs him. He is thin. He tries to smile. She kisses him on the cheek. “You better go give your man some loving. We don’t want him getting jealous.”
Dwayne looks tired and worn himself. He has been the at home caregiver for three weeks. Sandy grasps him hard and he holds her, but without the sexual overtones she expected. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he whispers in her ear. She shoos him out of the kitchen and tells him to go watch football. “I knew you were my ideal woman” he says and gladly leaves the kitchen to her. When the food is heated and she has plated three servings, she looks into the living room. Alex is lying down on the couch. Dwayne is in the chair beside him with his head back. They are both asleep and holding hands.
They eat on TV trays. When they are through and cleaning up, Sandy tells Dwayne there would be plenty for left-overs. None of the three of them ate very much. Dwayne says it is the desert he thinks Alex really wants. Dwayne cuts two large slices of sweet potato pie. He sits on the couch beside Alex and puts a bite in Alex’s mouth. Alex smiles and savors it. “That’s what I’m talking about.” Dwayne asks him “who used to make sweet potato pie?” Alex tell him it was his Aunt Charlotte. Dwayne asks who she was married to. He is trying to get Alex to remember and to enjoy the memories. Sandy can tell this is a routine they have fallen into.
Later that evening, Dwayne helps Alex to bathe and puts him in bed. He comes out and folds up the bedding Alex has used to sleep on the couch. He pulls out a different blanket and pillow and goes to the end of the couch opposite of where Alex had been lying. He tells Sandy, “I know it’s not grand accommodations.” He lays down and opens his arms. She lies down on the couch beside him and says “Reminds me of a good old gospel song.” Sometime in the middle of the night she hears Dwayne say into her ear “I’ve missed you so much. You have no idea.” Dwayne takes her hand and guides it to his erection. She scrambles up on top of him. “You just lie there and relax. I can do all the work”.
The next day she sends Dwayne home. She tells him to go run or box. He will feel better. Take a long hot shower and stretch out on your own bed. He tell hers he knew she hadn’t come to play nurse maid. Besides she leaves on a plane tonight. He wants to spend time with her. She looks at this man who is so tired and fatigued. She tells him again to go home. She teases when Alex gets up that she thinks Dwayne is afraid to leave them alone together. Dwayne finally leaves. Soon as Dwayne leaves Alex asks Sandy to help him plan his funeral.
It is later that day. Alex has fallen asleep on the couch. Sandy sits on the floor beside the couch organizing the notes she has taken on what Alex wants for his funeral. Sandy is thinking about death and prayer. Alex wakes up and looks at Sandy. He says, “That poem?” Sandy asks, “The verse for your service?” Alex said no. The one she keeps thinking about: “Paracelsus”. Sandy hasn’t told Dwayne about the poem and doesn’t know how Alex would know she is thinking about it, but she is. “What you’re forgetting is that if he hadn’t died of arrogance self-reliance, he wouldn’t have had to send up the prayer.” Sandy is confused. What is it Alex is saying? “You keep focusing on if you would send up the prayer for another chance at life like Paracelsus, but if he hadn’t been so self-reliant, he wouldn’t have sent up a prayer at all. When you’re dying with a love one beside you, all you feel is grateful.” He falls asleep again and Sandy ponders life, death, and death do us part questions.