Chapter 26: Do you believe in Happy Endings?
For the next two weeks, Dwayne, Sandy and Alex have daily online video chats. Sandy is taking care of the wake arrangements in California and the internment and additional wake in New Orleans. Sandy convinces Dwayne to get an evening nurse so he can go home at night, but she knows there are still nights he stays at Alex’s –in case. Dwayne and Sandy have their own nightly phone calls. After Thanksgiving, they seem to have reconnected in a meaningful way. One Sunday early morning, they discuss the dreams from before they knew each other. They laughingly argue over whether it was a blue screen as Sandy calls the dream background or a blue world as Dwayne calls the background. They decide they are describing the same phenomena, but isn’t it interesting how differently they perceived what they saw? They agree to refer to their collective experience as “the Blue Dreams”.
During these two to three hours of nightly conversations, Dwayne discusses what an honor it truly is to be with Alex during this time. There is something about being with a love one as he dies which makes you realize death and life are all part of the same cycle. Dwayne has started to read portions of the Bible and is, also, researching other religions. He is considering that reincarnation is possible. He isn’t sure what happens after death, but he is happy that he is here to help Alex as he passes.
Dwayne asks almost every phone call about Isadora. He gives Sandy advice. He tells her what a great job she has done as a single mother. He says to her in one conversation about whether or not she should let Isadora come to California for the winter break, “I guess Frank and Isadora’s love lasted longer than a month?” He tells her that knowing Isadora has meant a lot to him.
On another phone call he simply sobs. “I love him,” he repeats over and over. Sandy tells him how much she wishes she was there at this time to help him. Dwayne is silent for a few minutes and then says, “That’s a decision you can make at any time, babe.”
When Alex goes into the hospital, the nightly phone calls end. Sandy knows that Dwayne’s inclination is to withdraw and isolate. She asks Frank to go and check on him. Dwayne calls her and tells her he is not isolating. He is trying to write a song about Alex in tribute, but he is blocked again. It feels unfair to Alex, but, now that Alex is unconscious, all he can think about is her and if they have a real future together. Sandy tells him she is relieved he is thinking about the future. It is something Alex would want. She avoids answering the implied question. She tells him she loves him. She finds herself telling him this repeatedly. It sounds hollow even to her own ears.
Alex dies on December 10th. It is Frank that calls to let her know. Frank has begun to see himself as Dwayne’s caregiver during this time while Dwayne is holding vigil by Alex’s deathbed. Frank tells Sandy that Dwayne is going to be ok, but he is distant and seems a little cold. He is processing…a lot of different things. This is all Frank can tell her.
On December 12th, Carmen celebrates her sweet sixteen birthday with a quinceanara. Isadora is in her court. Juanita alternates between pride and tears. “Our little girls are women now” she tells Sandy. Carmen is dating an 18 year old high school senior, but she still has a crush on Dwayne. Sandy sends Dwayne and Frank a photo of Carmen and Isadora together. Dwayne sends back a congratulations to Carmen. He messages Isadora separately to tell her how beautiful she is, he wishes he had been there to dance with her, he hopes to see her soon. After the Quinceanara, Isadora shows the message to Sandy.
Isadora: I don’t understand. Don’t you love him?
Sandy: Of course I do.
Isadora: Frank says he is heartbroken and it’s not just about his friend dying. He misses us. I only have a couple of years left at home. This is a man I would be proud to call Father.
Sandy: Isadora, if we were there, you would have missed Carmen’s Quinceanara. You grew up with her.
Isadora: I could have flown out for this event. It’s not the big events I’m thinking about. It’s the day to day stuff. It’s waking up on a Sunday morning and coming out and seeing the two of you kissing. It’s sitting and watching a ballgame on television with Dwayne.
Sandy: Since when have you watched ball games?
Isadora: Never, but Frank and Dwayne watched a basketball game yesterday. Dwayne said it was something his friend and him used to do. You should be there for him now. I would be proud to watch some ball games with him to ease his loneliness.
Sandy: I’m going out in a couple of days for Alex’s wake.
Isadora: Then what? I’m not saying you need to make the decision for me. I understand you can’t love Dwayne just because I want a father, but you keep saying you can’t move out there because of me. You need to stop using me as the reason for not making the decision. That’s not fair to me when I love Dwayne. The two men I love are in California. So, make your decision, but don’t use me as an excuse. Just remove me from the equation.
Sandy thinks to herself that her daughter is now a woman: in love and able to give her advice. Sandy decides that when she sees Dwayne in a few days she will ask him to move to Albuquerque. He has said his base could be anywhere. It might be soon to move in together, but at least they will be in the same town.
Sandy is packing on the morning of the 15th. She dropped Isadora off at Juanita’s the night before. Sandy is sad thinking of Alex. Tomorrow is his wake in Los Angeles. She will spend a few days with Dwayne and will ask him to move to Albuquerque. They will fly together to New Orleans for the internment ceremony and another gathering of musicians. Maybe, Dwayne will come home with her for Christmas, she thinks, and she will go to Vegas for his New Year’s Eve show. She begins to smile. She knows Alex would want them to be happy. The phone rings and she picks it up. At first, there is silence and, then, sobbing. Juanita tells her the girls were in an accident this morning on their way to the last day of class before Winter Break.
Sandy rushes to the hospital. Her phone buzzes with a text from Dwayne. Someone must have called Frank who told Dwayne. The text says: I’m flying out with Frank. Wait, her mind says, I don’t know if I want that. Juanita is at the hospital and they hug: “She’s going to be ok. They are both going to be ok.” Carmen’s boyfriend was seriously injured.
Carmen’s boyfriend had been driving. Carmen was in the passenger seat. Isadora was in the back on the driver’s side so she and Carmen could talk. They were t-boned on the driver side by a drunk driver. Drunk at 7 a.m. in the morning! Carmen just has minor whiplash and will not even stay overnight. Carmen’s boyfriend is in surgery. Juanita is so happy she has not tried to keep them apart or tell them he was too old because now… “Isadora,” Sandy asks, “Isadora?” Her leg is broken. Sandy sighs. That does not sound too bad. She will need minor surgery. Surgery? No surgery is minor. She will have the surgery this afternoon and be released tomorrow morning. Sandy’s phone keeps ringing. It is Dwayne. Why the hell is he bothering me now, she thinks, and turns off her phone.
Sandy sees Isadora. She is bravely facing surgery. She tells her mother Frank is flying out. Isadora tells Sandy not to worry. Frank will help to take care of her until she is recovered. It is just minor surgery. Sandy turns back on her phone. Dwayne has left several voice and text messages. She responds by text saying: she is ok. Don’t come. He responds immediately: I’m coming. Her response back is: I don’t need you here. He responds: Face to Face now!
Carmen has been released and is sitting with her mother waiting to hear about her boyfriend’s surgery. Sandy hugs and kisses Carmen. Sandy goes to her car, pulls out the tablet she keeps in her purse, connects to the hospital Internet. Dwayne and she are quickly face to face over electronic devices. She tells Dwayne the news on all three of the kids.
Dwayne: Jesus, poor Carmen.
Sandy: My heart breaks for her.
Sandy: It’s minor surgery. She is already being prepped. She will be released early tomorrow morning.
Dwayne: Are you ok?
Sandy: Of course, I’m fine.
Dwayne: Let me come out, babe.
Sandy: You have Alex’s wake.
Dwayne: Tomorrow afternoon. I can fly home tomorrow morning. You might not need me, but Isadora might like to know I’m there for her.
Sandy: It’s minor surgery.
Dwayne: And a friend of hers might die. She must be scared. Don’t shut me out, I’m her…
Sandy: What? What exactly are you to her?
Dwayne: I don’t know. Friend? Can I at least say that I am yours and Isadora’s friend?
Sandy thinks to herself that friend is a cold way to describe their relationship, but realizes that if he had used any other word to describe Isadora, she would have exploded.
Dwayne: (In a cold and distant voice) if you don’t want me, of course, I won’t come.
Sandy: I just need to really focus on Isadora now.
Dwayne: And you think having someone to lean on would make it harder instead of easier? Ok. I will see you tomorrow.
Dwayne: You’re still going to fly out for Alex’s wake?
Sandy: My daughter is having surgery.
Dwayne: Minor surgery and she is being released in the morning. You can fly out tomorrow morning and fly back after the wake. Frank will be there for Isadora. He’s already at the airport.
Sandy: I can’t afford to fly out for one day.
Dwayne: No, that’s not an excuse. I have money. I can help you with travel expenses.
Sandy realizes that she is reluctant to let him buy her plane tickets or pay for expenses. What type of woman does that with a man she is only dating?
Dwayne: (Deciding to open up as emotionally to her as he can.) Sandy, I need you. It will be a tough day for me. I miss you. I just really want to hold you, babe-whether I come there or you come here- I can’t tell you how much I need you right now. Whichever you want- I will fly out there tonight-you can fly out here tomorrow. I need you.
Sandy: My daughter has to be my priority, Dwayne, always. I will fly to New Orleans for the ceremony there.
By the time, Isadora’s surgery is completed, Carmen has the news that her boyfriend is out of surgery and his chances are good. He will have a long recovery. Carmen and Juanita rejoices over the news. Frank arrives late afternoon. Isadora is awake but groggy. Frank kisses her and tells her not to worry. His classes are over and he will help her through her recovery. Frank pulls Sandy out into the hallway.
Frank: You know you sent me to check on Dwayne.
Sandy: I appreciate it.
Frank: Well, there’s nothing I can do for him. He’s lonely, but not just for a companion. He talks about Alex, but he talks about you. You are the last and great love of his life, according to him. If you don’t feel the same way, don’t you think you should tell him?
At first, Sandy is furious. Some kid telling her how to be in love! The next morning, she watches Frank as he carries Isadora up to their condominium. The way Isadora and Frank look at one another! It is months, they have been apart, and they are still in love. Sandy realizes Isadora is leaning on her less for support and leaning on Frank more.
The next day Sandy goes to visit Carmen’s boyfriend in the hospital. He is not yet conscious, but the prognosis is good. As Sandy enters the hospital room, she sees Carmen and her boyfriend’s mother are together arm in arm. Sandy backs out of the room. They would barely have known each other, Sandy thinks, and yet they both love the boy in the hospital bed. That boy’s mother and girlfriend are literally leaning on each other. The symbolism of two people leaning on each other reminds Sandy of Dwayne’s definition of Happily Ever After; they learned to love each other and lean on each other through all the hard times that came afterwards. Sandy realizes she has missed out on the opportunity for Dwayne and her to lean on each other. She passes the hospital chapel on the way out. She hesitates. Should she go in and pray for Carmen’s boyfriend? Is that who she would be praying for? She walks out without going into the chapel.
Dwayne will not return her phone calls. He texts her that he has bought her a plane ticket to fly into New Orleans the evening of December 22 and out the morning of December 24. He has reserved a room for her for the two nights at a hotel. He thinks it is best if they just see each other at the service.
Alex is interned at the Musician’s Tomb. Dwayne had offered Alex any funeral arrangements he wanted, but Alex said he had been a musician in New Orleans most of his life. He wanted to be interned in the tomb set up for New Orleans musicians; some of who could afford no other gravesite. Dwayne said he would make an annual donation in Alex’s name to the group who keeps up the Musician’s Tomb. It is an overcast day with temperatures in the sixties. Old musician friends have brought instruments to play “When the Saints”. Dwayne is already in the cemetery when Sandy arrives. She goes to stand by him. During the ceremony, Dwayne reaches for her hand and she holds his hand tightly. She looks up at a glass musical note with an iron cross above the tomb. She is glad to see it is made of blue glass.
Sandy has made arrangements and Dwayne had paid for a second brief wake in a bar in The French Quarter. Sandy and Dwayne walk together, still hand in hand, from the cemetery to the bar. Sandy starts to update Dwayne on Isadora and Carmen’s boyfriend. Dwayne stops her. Frank is keeping him informed. Dwayne thanks her for all the work she has done setting up the two wakes and the internment. He knew it meant a lot to Alex. “Of course,” she says, “I know how much he meant to you.” Once at the bar everyone wants Dwayne to participate in the impromptu jam session. Dwayne smiles at Sandy and says a similar thing happened in LA. The best way to honor Alex was with music. Sandy looks at Dwayne, the social introvert, as he interacts with these men. These are his men even though he has never met them. They share the language of music. Despite the solemn occasion, Dwayne is smiling, laughing, and singing. At one point he says that he knows not everyone will understand, but Alex wouldn’t be happy if they didn’t play at least one song where Dwayne could shake his ass.
The wake is over and the bar sets up to open to the public. Sandy looks around for Dwayne. The bartender says Dwayne asked him to tell her where he would be. Sandy finds Dwayne in a little courtyard off a street in the French Quarter. He is sitting on a rod iron bench near a statue of a green and purple court jester. The sky is still overcast, but the temperature has risen. It is hot and muggy. Dwayne has taken off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt. Sandy observes Dwayne for a minutes unnoticed. He has aged in a few weeks. There are hints of grey in his hair. His muscles are turning a little into fat from lack of exercise. The lines on the corners of his eyes seem a little deeper. He looks up at her and smiles. It is a sad smile. Sandy’s heart goes out to him. The smile does not reach his eyes. She does love him completely. She sits on the bench beside him, but far away. He does not look at her at first. He looks instead at the statue.
Sandy: Did you dream of me this morning?
Dwayne: I think you know I did. I had a blue dream of you.
Sandy: Why do you think?
Dwayne: I guess because we are so far apart in every possible way. It’s our destiny, I guess, to have our blue dreams.
Sandy: (That is not the only destiny possible). Or be together?
Dwayne: That requires freewill. It is not destiny.
Sandy: It was kind of nice to have you in my head again. It feels so good to know so completely everything you are thinking and feeling.
Dwayne: I don’t have you in that way. I don’t know what you are thinking. I could see you clearly, that has changed. It wasn’t nice, though, it was torture seeing…seeing you all in white.
Sandy: Isn’t that what you want, though? Isn’t it just a vision of the future?
Dwayne: Darlin’- I’ve never met anybody as stubborn as you in my life. Only you could thumb your nose consistently at destiny. I used to think your stubbornness was cute, but it’s keeping us apart. It’s breaking us up. (He turns his head, finally, to look at her.)
Sandy: I was wrong not to come to you or let you come to me.
It hurts Dwayne to see Sandy in pain. He wonders if she is relenting a little in her resolve to be so damn independent. She is lucky. She knows everything I am feeling. Dwayne would do anything to see inside her heart and mind for a minute so he could understand what is keeping them apart.
Dwayne: It’s understandable why you wanted to stay in Albuquerque, but do you understand that it would have been easier for me to support you with your daughter or you to support me with Alex if we lived in the same damn town?
Sandy tries to stop him. She knows all of his thoughts and feelings, but Dwayne needs to verbally tell her. He doesn’t care that she knows from the dreams this morning. He is done with being cold and distant. He is done with not letting the woman he loves in. He might not be able to keep them together, but it isn’t going to be because he shuts her out of his emotions.
Dwayne: Part of it is sex. You know that so I might as well admit it. I am a physical being. One time in four months isn’t really going to cut it for me in the long run.
Sandy nods. She knows.
Dwayne: Now that Alex is gone, I could live wherever you think is best. You would just have to tell me where you wanted to live-anywhere in the world- and I would move heaven and earth to make it happen, but you’re too stubborn to tell me. So I thought I could just move to Albuquerque now. Why the Hell not? You can’t actually stop me from moving to be close to you. But what difference would that make, really, if you don’t let me in. If you won’t lean on me when you need me and if I can’t lean on you, then it might be worse being near. It might make it impossible to be close to you and you not let me help you. Not commit. Not try to have a life with me. If you’re too damn stubborn to let me in and what would it take? My God…well, yeah, possibly God himself has brought us together to love one another and you still can’t…if you can’t love me and be with me now after our blue dreams and…you can never really be with me.
Sandy: What are you saying?
Dwayne: It’s not in my nature to do this crawl thing and it’s not working. I want to move forward, take the leap, and jump the broom, as they say. I want us to commit to one another.
Sandy: If I’m not ready?
Dwayne: Then I need to get on with the business of getting on because you never will be. (Turning to face her fully). You are my great love and might be my only shot at bliss. But, darlin’, if I have to, I think I could learn to live without you.
Dwayne has tears in his eyes. He can see that she does do. If only he knew what she is thinking? What did she think when she woke up from her sleep this morning after holding his heart and soul in her mind?
Dwayne: I know what I was thinking when I went to bed. I know what I was thinking when I saw you all in white. Do you have a song or a poem for me?
Sandy: (hands him a flash drive) I do. I love you, Dwayne, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to answer.
Dwayne: I can’t just keep asking you. There’s only so much humiliation and rejection a man can take.
Sandy thinks that he is the one being stubborn and issuing ultimatums. She might not be ready to answer, but she isn’t so sure she could learn to live without him.
Sandy: Will you play that song on New Year’s Eve?
Dwayne thinks to himself that, if he has to learn to live without her, this song would be harder to perform than “the First Time” ever was.
Dwayne: Will you have an answer by then?
Sandy cannot think. She does not believe this might be the last time she sees him.
Dwayne: My love...
Sandy looks at him with tears streaming down her cheeks. He has never addressed her like that. She likes it more than anything she has ever heard.
Dwayne: My love, I can wait that long for your decision, but no longer. If I see you backstage on New Year’s Eve after I sing this song, then I will know the answer is yes. If I don’t, then the answer is no. There is no in between. There is no someday or maybe. I’m sorry if it’s selfish, but I’m just not strong enough for the in between and the waiting and hoping for someday. Life is too short for the someday when your soulmate is sitting right beside you.
Sandy nods. She understands. 8 days to make the decision that will decide the rest of her life. Dwayne comes and bends down in front of her. “In case, the answer is no,” he kisses her a deep, slow kiss, “then I guess I will see you in my blue dreams.”
Sandy is left alone in the courtyard. She looks at the sculpture of the jester in green and purple who seems to be mocking her. She feels completely and utterly alone. A few raindrops begin to fall. She sits there until the moon rises and she hears someone in the distance singing “Blue Moon.” Sandy closes her eyes. She sends up a prayer so earnest so...
New Year’s Eve. It has been a good concert. It is strange to play without Alex or Tom, but the new kids can play. There is a different energy with this band. It is an energy of the future. No looking towards the past. The New Year begins tomorrow. It will be the saddest or happiest of his life, but it will come. It is the only thing he is sure of. He has saved the song for his encore. He tells the crowd he wants to debut a new song. The crowd roars. It’s for a very special woman, he says, and all I can say is I hope she’s here. He searches the crowd, but in the sea of people he cannot make out any one person. He closes his eyes and sings the song knowing she already knew the words. He hopes she believes…