Where She Went, Page 2Gayle Forman
But none of this is news. It had all been documented, over and over again, ad nauseam, including in Shuffle. I’m not sure where Vanessa is going with it.
“You know, everyone seems to attribute the harder sound to the fact that Gus Allen produced Collateral Damage.”
“Right,” I say. “Gus likes to rock.”
Vanessa takes a sip of water. I can hear her tongue ring click. “But Gus didn’t write those lyrics, which are the foundation for all that oomph. You did. All that raw power and emotion. It’s like Collateral Damage is the angriest album of the decade.”
“And to think, we were going for the happiest.”
Vanessa looks up at me, narrows her eyes. “I meant it as a compliment. It was very cathartic for a lot of people, myself included. And that’s my point. Everyone knows something went down during your ‘black hole.’ It’s going to come out eventually, so why not control the message? Who does the ‘collateral damage’ refer to?” she asks, making air quotes. “What happened with you guys? With you?”
Our waiter delivers Vanessa’s salad. I order a second beer and don’t answer her question. I don’t say anything, just keep my eyes cast downward. Because Vanessa’s right about one thing. We do control the message. In the early days, we got asked this question all the time, but we just kept the answers vague: took a while to find our sound, to write our songs. But now the band’s big enough that our publicists issue a list of no-go topics to reporters: Liz and Sarah’s relationship, mine and Bryn’s, Mike’s former drug problems—and the Shooting Star’s “black hole.” But Vanessa apparently didn’t get the memo. I glance over at Aldous for some help, but he’s in deep conversation with the bartender. So much for backup.
“The title refers to war,” I say. “We’ve explained that before.”
“Right,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Because your lyrics are so political.”
Vanessa stares at me with those big baby blues. This is a reporter’s technique: create an awkward silence and wait for your subject to fill it in with babble. It won’t work with me, though. I can outstare anyone.
Vanessa’s eyes suddenly go cold and hard. She abruptly puts her breezy, flirty personality on the back burner and stares at me with hard ambition. She looks hungry, but it’s an improvement because at least she’s being herself. “What happened, Adam? I know there’s a story there, the story of Shooting Star, and I’m going to be the one to tell it. What turned this indie-pop band into a primal rock phenomenon?”
I feel a cold hard fist in my stomach. “Life happened. And it took us a while to write the new stuff—”
“Took you a while,” Vanessa interrupts. “You wrote both the recent albums.”
I just shrug.
“Come on, Adam! Collateral Damage is your record. It’s a masterpiece. You should be proud of it. And I just know the story behind it, behind your band, is your story, too. A huge shift like this, from collaborative indie quartet to star-driven emotional punk powerhouse—it’s all on you. I mean you alone were the one up at the Grammys accepting the award for Best Song. What did that feel like?”
Like shit. “In case you forgot, the whole band won Best New Artist. And that was more than a year ago.”
She nods. “Look, I’m not trying to diss anybody or reopen wounds. I’m just trying to understand the shift. In sound. In lyrics. In band dynamics.” She gives me a knowing look. “All signs point to you being the catalyst.”
“There’s no catalyst. We just tinkered with our sound. Happens all the time. Like Dylan going electric. Like Liz Phair going commercial. But people tend to freak out when something diverges from their expectations.”
“I just know there’s something more to it,” Vanessa continues, pushing forward against the table so hard that it shoves into my gut and I have to physically push it back.
“Well, you’ve obviously got your theory, so don’t let the truth get in the way.”
Her eyes flash for a quick second and I think I’ve pissed her off, but then she puts her hands up. Her nails are bitten down. “Actually, you want to know my theory?” she drawls.
Not particularly. “Lay it on me.”
“I talked to some people you went to high school with.”
I feel my entire body freeze up, soft matter hardening into lead. It takes extreme concentration to lift the glass to my lips and pretend to take a sip.
“I didn’t realize that you went to the same high school as Mia Hall,” she says lightly. “You know her? The cellist? She’s starting to get a lot of buzz in that world. Or whatever the equivalent of buzz is in classical music. Perhaps hum.”
The glass shakes in my hand. I have to use my other hand to help lower it to the table to keep from spilling all over myself. All the people who really know what actually had happened back then aren’t talking, I remind myself. Rumors, even true ones, are like flames: Stifle the oxygen and they sputter and die.
“Our high school had a good arts program. It was kind of a breeding ground for musicians,” I explain.
“That makes sense,” Vanessa says, nodding. “There’s a vague rumor that you and Mia were a couple in high school. Which was funny because I’d never read about it anywhere and it certainly seems noteworthy.”
An image of Mia flashes before my eyes. Seventeen years old, those dark eyes full of love, intensity, fear, music, sex, magic, grief. Her freezing hands. My own freezing hands, now still grasping the glass of ice water.
“It would be noteworthy if it were true,” I say, forcing my voice into an even tone. I take another gulp of water and signal the waiter for another beer. It’s my third, the dessert course of my liquid lunch.
“So it’s not?” She sounds skeptical.
“Wishful thinking,” I reply. “We knew each other casually from school.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t get anyone who really knew either of you to corroborate it. But then I got a hold of an old yearbook and there’s a sweet shot of the two of you. You look pretty coupley. The thing is, there’s no name with the photo, just a caption. So unless you know what Mia looks like, you might miss it.”
Thank you, Kim Schein: Mia’s best friend, yearbook queen, paparazzo. We hadn’t wanted that picture used, but Kim had snuck it in by not listing our names with it, just that stupid nickname.
“Groovy and the Geek?” Vanessa asks. “You guys even had a handle.”
“You’re using high school yearbooks as your source? What next? Wikipedia?”
“You’re hardly a reliable source. You said you knew each other ‘casually.’”
“Look, the truth is we maybe hooked up for a few weeks, right when those pictures got taken. But, hey, I dated a lot of girls in high school.” I give her my best playboy smirk.
“So you haven’t seen her since school then?”
“Not since she left for college,” I say. That part, at least, is true.
“So how come when I interviewed the rest of your bandmates, they went all no comment when I asked about her?” she asks, eyeing me hard.
Because whatever else has gone wrong with us, we’re still loyal. About that. I force myself to speak out loud: “Because there’s nothing to tell. I think people like you like the sitcom aspect of, you know, two well-known musicians from the same high school being a couple.”
“People like me?” Vanessa asks.
Vultures. Bloodsuckers. Soul-stealers. “Reporters,” I say. “You’re fond of fairy tales.”
“Well, who isn’t?” Vanessa says. “Although that woman’s life has been anything but a fairy tale. She lost her whole family in a car crash.”
Vanessa mock shudders the way you do when you talk about someone’s misfortunes that have nothing to do with you, that don’t touch you, and never will. I’ve never hit a woman in my life, but for one minute I want to punch her in the face, give her a taste of the pain she’s so casually describing. But I hold it together and she carries on, clueless. “Speaking of fairy tales, are you and Bryn Shraeder having a baby? I keep see
ing her in all the tabloids’ bump watches.”
“No,” I reply. “Not that I know of.” I’m damn sure Vanessa knows that Bryn is off-limits, but if talking about Bryn’s supposed pregnancy will distract her, then I’ll do it.
“Not that you know of? You’re still together, right?”
God, the hunger in her eyes. For all her talk of writing definitive surveys, for all her investigative skills, she’s no different from all the other hack journalists and stalker photographers, dying to be the first to deliver a big scoop, either on a birth: Is It Twins for Adam and Bryn? Or a death: Bryn Tells Her Wilde Man: “It’s Quits!” Neither story is true, but some weeks I see both of them on the covers of different gossip rags at the same time.
I think of the house in L.A. that Bryn and I share. Or coinhabit. I can’t remember the last time the two of us were there together at the same time for more than a week. She makes two, three films a year, and she just started her own production company. So between shooting and promoting her films and chasing down properties to produce, and me being in the studio and on tour, we seem to be on opposing schedules.
“Yep, Bryn and I are still together,” I tell Vanessa. “And she’s not pregnant. She’s just into those peasant tops these days, so everyone always assumes it’s to hide a belly. It’s not.”
Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if Bryn wears those tops on purpose, to court the bump watch as a way to tempt fate. She seriously wants a kid. Even though publicly, Bryn is twenty-four, in reality, she’s twenty-eight and she claims her clock is ticking and all that. But I’m twenty-one, and Bryn and I have only been together a year. And I don’t care if Bryn says that I have an old soul and have been through a lifetime already. Even if I were forty-one, and Bryn and I had just celebrated twenty years together, I wouldn’t want a kid with her.
“Will she be joining you on the tour?”
At the mere mention of the tour, I feel my throat start to close up. The tour is sixty-seven nights long. Sixty-seven . I mentally pat for my pill bottle, grow calmer knowing it’s there, but am smarter than to sneak one in front of Vanessa.
“Huh?” I ask.
“Is Bryn going to come meet you on the tour at all?”
I imagine Bryn on tour, with her stylists, her Pilates instructors, her latest raw-foods diet. “Maybe.”
“How do you like living in Los Angeles?” Vanessa asks. “You don’t seem like the SoCal type.”
“It’s a dry heat,” I reply.
“Nothing. A joke.”
“Oh. Right.” Vanessa eyes me skeptically. I no longer read interviews about myself, but when I used to, words like inscrutable were often used. And arrogant. Is that really how people see me?
Thankfully, our allotted hour is up. She closes her notebook and calls for the check. I catch Aldous’s relieved-looking eyes to let him know we’re wrapping up.
“It was nice meeting you, Adam,” she says.
“Yeah, you too,” I lie.
“I gotta say, you’re a puzzle.” She smiles and her teeth gleam an unnatural white. “But I like puzzles. Like your lyrics, all those grisly images on Collateral Damage. And the lyrics on the new record, also very cryptic. You know some critics question whether BloodSuckerSunshine can match the intensity of Collateral Damage. . . .”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard this before. It’s this thing that reporters do. Reference other critics’ opinions as a backhanded way to espouse their own. And I know what she’s really asking, even if she doesn’t: How does it feel that the only worthy thing you ever created came from the worst kind of loss?
Suddenly, it’s all too much. Bryn and the bump watch. Vanessa with my high school yearbook. The idea that nothing’s sacred. Everything’s fodder. That my life belongs to anyone but me. Sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven, sixty-seven. I push the table hard so that glasses of water and beer go clattering into her lap.
“This interview’s over,” I growl.
“I know that. Why are you freaking out on me?”
“Because you’re nothing but a vulture! This has fuck all to do with music. It’s about picking everything apart.”
Vanessa’s eyes dance as she fumbles for her recorder. Before she has a chance to turn it back on, I pick it up and slam it against the table, shattering it, and then dump it into a glass of water for good measure. My hand is shaking and my heart is pounding and I feel the beginnings of a panic attack, the kind that makes me sure I’m about to die.
“What did you just do?” Vanessa screams. “I don’t have a backup.”
“How am I supposed to write my article now?”
“You call that an article?”
“Yeah. Some of us have to work for a living, you prissy, temperamental ass—”
“Adam!” Aldous is at my side, laying a trio of hundred-dollar bills on the table. “For a new one,” he says to Vanessa, before ushering me out of the restaurant and into a taxi. He throws another hundred-dollar bill at the driver after he balks at my lighting up. Aldous reaches into my pocket and grabs my prescription bottle, shakes a tablet into his hand, and says, “Open up,” like some bearish mother.
He waits until we’re a few blocks from my hotel, until I’ve sucked down two cigarettes in one continuous inhale and popped another anxiety pill. “What happened back there?”
I tell him. Her questions about the “black hole.” Bryn. Mia.
“Don’t worry. We can call Shuffle. Threaten to pull their exclusive if they don’t put a different reporter on the piece. And maybe this gets into the tabloids or Gabber for a few days, but it’s not much of a story. It’ll blow over.”
Aldous is saying all this stuff calmly, like, hey, it’s only rock ’n’ roll, but I can read the worry in his eyes.
“I can’t, Aldous.”
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to. It’s just an article. It’ll be handled.”
“Not just that. I can’t do it. Any of it.”
Aldous, who I don’t think has slept a full night since he toured with Aerosmith, allows himself to look exhausted for a few seconds. Then he goes back to manager mode. “You’ve just got pretour burnout. Happens to the best of ’em,” he assures me. “Once you get on the road, in front of the crowds, start to feel the love, the adrenaline, the music, you’ll be energized. I mean, hell, you’ll be fried for sure, but happy-fried. And come November, when this is over, you can go veg out on an island somewhere where nobody knows who you are, where nobody gives a shit about Shooting Star. Or wild Adam Wilde.”
November? It’s August now. That’s three months. And the tour is sixty-seven nights. Sixty-seven. I repeat it in my head like a mantra, except it does the opposite of what a mantra’s supposed to do. It makes me want to grab fistfuls of my hair and yank.
And how do I tell Aldous, how do I tell any of them, that the music, the adrenaline, the love, all the things that mitigate how hard this has become, all of that’s gone? All that’s left is this vortex. And I’m right on the edge of it.
My entire body is shaking. I’m losing it. A day might be just twenty-four hours but sometimes getting through just one seems as impossible as scaling Everest.
Needle and thread, flesh and bone
Spit and sinew, heartbreak is home
Your suture lines sparkle like diamonds
Bright stars to light my confinement
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 7
Aldous leaves me in front of my hotel. “Look, man, I think you just need some time to chill. So, listen: I’m gonna clear the schedule for the rest of the day and cancel your meetings tomorrow. Your flight to London’s not till seven; you don’t have to be at the airport till five.” He glances at his phone. “That’s more than twenty-four hours to do whatever you want to. I promise you, you’ll feel so much better. Just go be free.”
Aldous is peering at me with a look of ca
lculated concern. He’s my friend, but I’m also his responsibility. “I’m gonna change my flight,” he announces. “I’ll fly with you tomorrow.”
I’m embarrassed by how grateful I am. Flying Upper Class with the band is no great shakes. We all tend to stay plugged into our own luxury pods, but at least when I fly with them, I’m not alone. When I fly alone, who knows who I’ll be seated next to? I once had a Japanese businessman who didn’t stop talking to me at all during a ten-hour flight. I’d wanted to be moved but hadn’t wanted to seem like the kind of rock-star prick who’d ask to be moved, so I’d sat there, nodding my head, not understanding half of what he was saying. But worse yet are the times when I’m truly alone for those long-haul flights.
I know Aldous has lots to do in London. More to the point, missing tomorrow’s meeting with the rest of the band and the video director will be one more little earthquake. But whatever. There are too many fault lines to count now. Besides, nobody blames Aldous; they blame me.
So, it’s a huge imposition to let Aldous spend an extra day in New York. But I still accept his offer, even as I downplay his generosity by muttering, “Okay.”
“Cool. You clear your head. I’ll leave you alone, won’t even call. Want me to pick you up here or meet you at the airport?” The rest of the band is staying downtown. We’ve gotten into the habit of staying in separate hotels since the last tour, and Aldous diplomatically alternates between staying at my hotel and theirs. This time he’s with them.