“Coming with you?” she said, as though it was obvious.
“Coming with me where?”
“To Portland, love.”
Portland was our last show and a sort of homecoming as we’d all be basing there now. Not in a communal House of Rock anymore. Liz and Sarah were getting their own place. Mike was moving in with his girlfriend. And Fitzy and I were renting a house together. But we were all still in the same area, within walking distance to one another and the rehearsal space we now rented.
“We’re in a van. Not a tour bus,” I told her, looking down at my Converse. “And Portland’s the last show, a kind of friends-and-family thing. You shouldn’t come.” And you are not my love.
She frowned and I’d slunk out the door, thinking that was the last of it. But when I showed up to sound check in Portland, she was there, waiting for me in the Satyricon. I told her to leave, not very nicely. It was along the lines of: There’s a name for this and it’s called stalking. I was a dick, I know, but I was tired. I’d asked her not to come. And she was freaking me out in a big way. Not just her. Four girls in two weeks was doing my head in. I needed to be alone.
“Piss off, Adam. You’re not even a bloody rock star yet, so stop acting like such a self-important wanker. And you weren’t even that good.” This she shouted in front of everyone.
So I had the roadies throw her out. She left screaming insults about me, my sexual prowess, my ego.
“Wilde Man, indeed,” Liz said, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling like the opposite of a wild man, actually wanting to sneak into a room and hide. I didn’t know it yet, but once the real tour started—the one our label sent us on after the album went haywire, a five-month slog of sold-out shows and groupies galore—all I’d wanted to do was hide. Given my isolationist tendencies, you’d think I’d have learned to stay away from the freebie affection on such constant offer. But after shows, I craved connection. I craved skin—the taste of another woman’s sweat. If it couldn’t be hers, well, then anyone’s would do . . . for a few hours. But I’d learned one lesson—no more overnight guests.
So, that night in Seattle may have been the first time I became a guy. But it wasn’t the last.
The boogeyman sleeps on your side of the bed
Whispers in my ear: “Better off dead.”
Fills my dreams with sirens and lights of regret
Kisses me gently when I wake up in a sweat
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, TRACK 3
I go with Mia to the ferry anyway. Because what else am I going to do? Throw a tantrum because she hasn’t kept an up-to-date catalog of every conversation we’ve ever had. It’s called moving on.
And she’s right about the ferry being dead. At four thirty in the morning, not a lot of demand for Staten Island. There are maybe a dozen people sprawled out in the downstairs deck. One trio of late-night stragglers is sacked out on a bench, rehashing the evening, but as we pass them, one of the girls lifts her head and stares at me. Then she asks her friend, “Dude, is that Adam Wilde?”
The friend laughs. “Yeah. And next to him is Britney Spears. Why the hell would Adam Wilde be on the Staten Island Ferry?”
I’m asking myself the same question.
But this is apparently one of Mia’s things, and this is her farewell-to-New-York-even-though-I’m-not-actually-leaving tour. So I follow her upstairs to the bow of the boat near the railing.
As we pull away from New York, the skyline recedes behind us and the Hudson River opens up to one side, the harbor to the other. It’s peaceful out here on the water, quiet except for a pair of hopeful seagulls following in our wake, squawking for food, I guess, or maybe just some company in the night. I start to relax in spite of myself.
And after a few minutes, we’re close to the Statue of Liberty. She’s all spotlit in the night, and her torch is also illuminated, like there’s really a flame in there, welcoming the huddled masses. Yo, lady, here I am.
I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. Too many crowds. Aldous once invited me on a private helicopter tour, but I don’t do choppers. But now that she’s right here, I can see why this is on Mia’s list. In pictures, the statue always looks kind of grim, determined, But up close, she’s softer. She has a look on her face, like she knows something you don’t.
“You’re smiling,” Mia says to me.
And I realize I am. Maybe it’s being granted a special pass to do something I thought was off-limits. Or maybe the statue’s look is contagious.
“It’s nice,” Mia says. “I haven’t seen it in a while.”
“It’s funny,” I reply, “because I was just thinking about her.” I gesture toward the statue. “It’s like she has some kind of secret. The secret to life.”
Mia looks up. “Yeah. I see what you mean.”
I blow air out my lips. “I could really use that secret.”
Mia tilts her head out over the railing. “Yeah? So ask her for it.”
“She’s right there. No one’s here. No tourists crawling around her feet like little ants. Ask her for her secret.”
“I’m not going to ask her.”
“You want me to do it? I will, but it’s your question, so I think you should do the honors.”
“You make a habit of talking to statues?”
“Yes. And pigeons. Now, are you going to ask?”
I look at Mia. She’s got her arms crossed across her chest, a little impatient. I turn back to the railing. “Um. Statue? Oh, Statue of Liberty,” I call out quietly. No one is around, but this is still really embarrassing.
“Louder,” Mia prods.
What the hell. “Hey, excuse me,” I call out, “what’s your secret?”
We both c**k our ears out over the water, as though we expect an answer to come racing back.
“What did she say?” Mia asks.
“Liberty,” Mia repeats, nodding in agreement. “No, wait, I think there’s more. Hang on.” She leans out over the railing, widening her eyes. “Hmm. Hmm. Aha.” She turns to me. “Apparently, she isn’t wearing any underwear under her robes, and with the bay breeze, it provides a certain frisson.”
“Lady Liberty’s going commando,” I say. “That is so French!”
Mia cracks up at that. “Do you think she ever flashes the tourists?”
“No way! Why do you think she has that private little look on her face? All those red-state puritans coming by the boatload, never once suspecting that Old Libs hasn’t got panties on. She’s probably sporting a Brazilian.”
“Okay, I need to lose that visual,” Mia groans. “And might I remind you that we’re from a red state—sort of.”
“Oregon’s a divided state,” I reply. “Rednecks to the east, hippies to the west.”
“Speaking of hippies, and going commando . . .”
“Oh, no. Now that’s a visual I really don’t need.”
“Mammary Liberation Day!” Mia crows, referring to some sixties holdover in our town. Once a year a bunch of women spend the day topless to protest the inequity that it’s legal for men to go shirtless, but not women. They do it in the summer, but Oregon being Oregon, half the time, it’s still freezing, so there was a lot of aging puckered flesh. Mia’s mom had always threatened to march; her dad had always bribed her with a dinner out at a fancy restaurant not to.
“Keep Your Class B Misdemeanor off My B Cups,” Mia says, quoting one of the movement’s more ridiculous slogans between gasps of laughter. “That makes no sense. If you’re baring your boobs, why a bra?”
“Sense? It was some stoner hippie idea. And you’re looking for logic?”
“Mammary Liberation Day,” Mia says, wiping away the tears. “Good old Oregon! That was a lifetime ago.”
And it was. So the remark shouldn’t feel like a slap. But it does. “How come you never went back?” I ask. It’s not really Oregon’s abandonment I want explained, but it seems safer to hide under the big green blanket of our state.
“Why should I?” Mia asks, keeping her gaze steady over the water.
“I don’t know. The people there.”
“The people there can come here.”
“To visit them. Your family. At the . . .” Oh, shit, what am I saying?
“You mean the graves?”
I just nod.
“Actually, they’re the reason I don’t go back.”
I nod my head. “Too painful.”
Mia laughs. A real and genuine laugh, a sound about as expected as a car alarm in a rain forest. “No, it’s not like that at all.” She shakes her head. “Do you honestly think that where you’re buried has any bearing on where your spirit lives?”
Where your spirit lives?
“Do you want to know where my family’s spirits live?”
I suddenly feel like I’m talking to a spirit. The ghost of rational Mia.
“They’re here,” she says, tapping her chest. “And here,” she says, touching her temple. “I hear them all the time.”
I have no idea what to say. Were we not just making fun of all the New Agey hippie types in our town two minutes ago?
But Mia’s not kidding anymore. She frowns deeply, swivels away. “Never mind.”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“No, I get it. I sound like a Rainbow Warrior. A freak. A Looney Tune.”
“Actually, you sound like your gran.”
She stares at me. “If I tell you, you’ll call the guys with the straitjackets.”
“I left my phone at the hotel.”
“Also, we’re on a boat.”
“And if by chance they do show up, I’ll just offer myself up. So, what, do they, like, haunt you?”
She takes a deep breath and her shoulders slump as if she’s setting down a heavy load. She beckons me over to one of the empty benches. I sit down next to her.
“‘Haunt’ is not the right word for it. Haunt makes it sound bad, unwelcome. But I do hear them. All the time.”
“Not just hear their voices, like the memory of them,” she goes on. “I can hear them talk to me. Like now. In real time. About my life.”
I must give her a weird look, because she blushes. “I know. I hear dead people. But it’s not like that. Like remember that crazy homeless woman who used to wander around the college campus claiming she heard voices broadcast to her shopping cart?” I nod. Mia stops for a minute.
“At least I don’t think it’s like that,” she says. “Maybe it is. Maybe I am nuts and just don’t think I am because crazy people never think they’re crazy, right? But I really do hear them. Whether it’s some kind of angel force like Gran believes, and they’re up in some heaven on a direct line to me, or whether it’s just the them I’ve stored inside me, I don’t know. And I don’t know if it even matters. What matters is that they’re with me. All the time. And I know I sound like a crazy person, mumbling to myself sometimes, but I’m just talking to Mom about what skirt to buy or to Dad about a recital I’m nervous about or to Teddy about a movie I’ve seen.
“And I can hear them answer me. Like they’re right there in the room with me. Like they never really went away. And here’s what’s really weird: I couldn’t hear them back in Oregon. After the accident, it was like their voices were receding. I thought I was going to totally lose the ability to remember what they even sounded like. But once I got away, I could hear them all the time. That’s why I don’t want to go back. Well, one of the reasons. I’m scared I’ll lose the connection, so to speak.”