I fuckin' know. I do. I'm not unaware.
There's a lawn sprinkler spraying cold water on my ass, and I vomit over and over again into their finely trimmed hedges. Wipe the mouth, force the throbbing, wavering head upward. That freckled little boy. Oh God…4 years old, nose pressed flat against the foggy window. Eyes wide open as I violate his lawn. It was his empty plastic wading pool that became my bed, just 5 hours previous.
"Eh, kid…" Little boy looks at me, suspicious.
"Hey child. Boy." He only just reaches the door handle and opens it a crack.
"Wut? Are you mommy's friend?"
"I'm just a girl. Can you maybe get me some water in a cup?"
"Oh. What's the magic word?"
"Huh? Please?" Little boy ran away to leave me with this cold, white morning. I was going to have to start retracing my steps again. Soon. It would be harder this time. It would be more painful this time around. I'd gone too far. Where the fuck was I? Manufactured homes, manicured lawns. This was Southern California suburbia. I was far from home. I didn't belong here, screwing with the tranquility. Sleeping in plastic kiddie pools, chatting up polite 4 year old children—
"You frowed up on the flowers." He squeaked, accusingly… Throwing up on the flowers. Another offense. A tiny hand emerged from the other side of the glass door, holding out a green plastic Scooby Doo cup.
"Thanks kid. I'm sorry I threw up on the flowers, I'm just really sick." Finally, something to dissolve the taste of bile.
"I knew you were sick. And you hurted your arm." I could feel my face fall at the same speed as my heart in my chest, as he pointed to the needle holes. If I could only be so innocent again. I had to move. This boy was going to make me crumble like nothing had; I was so close to the edge again. The recollections of the past five days were coming back. That hot prickling tingle. Not again. The will is good, strong, pure. The body is weak, wrong, deceptive. This poor child.
"Ok kid. Thanks for the water. You're a cool cat. I gotta go home now." Little kid eyed the dripping vomit hanging in the hedge in morbid fascination and smiled a devious smile before running back inside. Little boys like gross things. Puke. An eternal truth.
And now there's the realization kick. I don't know where my car is. I'm going to have to bring myself back to what happened before right now, this second. There's nothing I could dread more. In spite of everything, the only thing I can barely stand to do is look back. But that's the only way out of here.
My Lexus has miles and miles on it. It's been a while now since I've been in a town I hadn't visited already. It was virgin pure. Safe; I hadn't fucked up here yet. Then again, the night is young after all. Roll into the Gas-N-Save, fill it up, troll around the neighborhood. This was a small town. Suburbs. LA made these areas seem exotic in comparison. Industrial lamp posts, 2-car garages and small square lawns, what a foreign concept. And that ever-constant feeling hanging on my back, that I didn't have to be here, that I shouldn't be and that I was gonna really screw it all up this time. Dessa and I were used to working ourselves into a new place, though, and by 10 o' clock I had parked my car on Quince Ave. (That's where it is…) and stepped alongside a pack of glittering wolves. They were cocaine-skinny teenage girls, sucking on their gums and shivering convulsively in the cold. Teetering on spiky heels, smelling a bit antiseptic. It must've been a grudging sigh I choked on as I made my way towards them. It was undeniable. I had found my scene.
"Any of you girls like getting fucked up?" I asked. I suddenly felt very tired.
"Hey there, Sonja." I froze; my throat closed up.
"Oh my God Janine, you're right, she looks just like her!" They laughed, the rest of the pack joined in lazily. They looked like me, too. The bleach blondes. Every head the same shade. The color of the front row of my concerts.
"Yea, well, I'm not her. I get that all the time, you know. It's so strange." A taller blonde with sharp black eyebrows nodded.
"A LOT of people look like her now, I hear. She's really a brand now. Sold out. Plus, you only sorta look like her. The hair's different, obviously. And you're taller."
"And in Gileston. That should speak, like, volumes."
"So that's where I am, Gileson? That's the name?"
"I know, huh? I wish I could just escape this place." I think I managed to look just as disinterested as they did as I answered.
"Yeah, I know the feeling." There was a wall of eyes on me again. I could feel myself starting to perform again. Feel the strings on my arms, pulling against the skin. I had begun raking my nails across them again. We walked over to a party in some kid's garage, me and my new best buddies. I had been drinking and doing lines, playing with my friends, shaking inside as I gave them what I thought they wanted from me. Strange the way I could see myself doing it as I did it. I'll be everything you want. I'll be just the person you expect I am. I will be the perfect picture to fit your judgement. Now, you can't take your eyes off of me, can you?
It was a new day, only an hour and 25 minutes old. I had been compulsively pulling on a piece of my short rust-colored hair and rubbing my toe against the cheap fabric of my wet shoes. My toe was burning and blistering on one side and my scalp must have been black and blue underneath. We were talking about Sonja again.
"She had really good music, but she's useless now, isn't she?"
"Huh?! Oh, yeah. I personally don't care for her. Who wants to change the subject?"
"It's crazy that you look so much like her, you know? Like, I mean in a good way, not a crazy junkie bitch kinda way."
"Oh. Thank you." I decided I hated Janine.
"Did you see that interview that was on the night before? That one where she totally rips Sonja a new one?" A skinny boy called out from the crowd that had gathered around me. Fuck. This. Shit. The cynical chuckles rippled around me.
"I saw that, where she—"
"Who cares about that dead-eyed cunt anyway? She's a disgrace to journalism." I snarled. Wished I hadn't. Or that I hadn't dropped a full bottle of Miller High Life on the concrete ground. My poor head was already buzzing. Carefully stepping over the yellow sticky mess of glass shards, pushing past this crowd of cold-blooded demons. My stomach tingled. Oh…this was too much. This was so wrong. Fucking sick. Nightmarish. I had to get out, no matter where. Dessa's shrill voice drilled into me like the voice of a vengeful God. "I told you, Sonja! I told you! I said not to watch it for a fucking reason. God, little sister, why didn't you listen to me? Come here, come back—"
"I need to go, I just remembered, I really need to leave." I hollered, stumbling to the street.
"Hey, it's only 1:30, are you sure?"
"I have to sleep, I just had a hell of a week."
"What, did you go on a bender?"
"I killed my baby, thanks for asking."
"Ha." And then I trip. I slip on these cheap thrift-store heels and fall ass-over-elbows, slamming into the middle of the driveway. I felt my lip split as I bit it going down. More importantly, I felt my heavy corduroy coat slip down off my shoulders. Mother Mary peeked her head out of my hiding place. At least six of these pseudo-punk suburban kids saw that tattoo. I hobbled away as fast as my numb, intoxicated body would allow. Ringing, loud ringing in my ears. But even louder than the ringing was my own mind screaming at me. Run, dammit, run! Get yourself up, bitch! Move, move…I kicked my shoes off and left them lying in the street, sprinting down past street signs named after fruit. Cherry, Persimmon, Gooseberry, Plum. Run, girl, run. Get as far away from this as you can.
Found the Lexus parked down the block on Quince Avenue and knew I didn't have to bother unlocking it to get in. I crawled into the back seat, suddenly I couldn't keep my eyes open. I had to lay down, fall asleep finally, after avoiding it forever. But I couldn't stop my own MIND from running, buzzing, retaliating against me. I know I'm getting sober again and these memories are becoming so clear, so sharp, stabbing me at the heart, if I still have one, and a soul, if I still believe they exist. I haven't cried in years, and I've been so proud of that. I flaunted this fact. Practically bragged about it. Now, all of a sudden I can't stop. It's pathetic and ridiculous. It's one of the signs that I'm towards the end of this. I know I'm getting closer to the truth and I don't wanna—I don't wanna go to that place anymore. So why can't I stop thinking about it? I see myself from above, leaking into my hair and the leather seats, making them moist and slippery against my face. I see myself, holding myself in, arms wrapped around my body. My constantly failing body. My knees pressing up against my chest. Not a soul to hold me. And my mind strikes on these memories again with a new vengeance.
I'm standing over the sink, Dessa's hands in my hair. In my ears are her words, which I can barely hear over the tremulous echoes bouncing off the porcelain and the tile walls. The echoes are mine. Faint splashes of dirty water in the sink and my cries that aren't really cries anymore, but confused whimpers of some dying animal. Dessa's words catch in the back of her throat; she's trying to scold me but she speaks too softly, too somber. "I told you not to watch the TV. I told you. Why did you have to see that? Why didn't you listen to me?"
"Stop saying that."
In English this time, "It's true."
She squeezes my hair and a plume of dark red dye clots the sink water and drifts down the drain. Before I know I'm doing it I've vomited again, into the sink, like I'd been doing numerous times in the past three weeks. Dessa pulls me up by the hair out of the sink and I let her. She sighs and holds me to her chest, and I think she knows. She didn't even mind that maroon hair dye, water and vomit were ruining her expensive top.
"You're breaking my heart, Sonja."
Again, for the fifth time in three days, I could feel that awful warmth and stickiness overcome me. They told me it would stop. Before I can stop myself I'm looking down at the reddish-black dots spilling onto my bare white feet. There's a pounding in my ears, washing away Dessa's panicking voice. My face gets hot as my arms and legs go cold; go limp. There's whiteness and nothing else.
The backseat is hot and humid. Outside a fog was rolling in. The windows were clouded over and sweating droplets of moisture, running down the sides. My body moved so slow when I dragged it over the seats and into the driver's side, my elbow smashing on the horn good and long. Fuck this neighborhood and it's quiet afternoons. I was leaving Gileston. Driving back home. Completing the final actions warranted of me before the Great Letting Go. Mother Mary was calling.
Dessa couldn't believe I could watch it, as the needle buzzed and hummed, digging in deeper. My arm was on fire but I didn't care. Didn't even move. It was beautiful. She was the most lovely Virgin Mary I had ever seen. Dessa chewed and chewed on her thin lips, unsure of what to do with herself. It was a long time ago. I was over 120 lbs. We had just come to America. Dessa had lovely violet hair, sparkly green eyes, and was playing house with a tattoo artist named Gabriel. She was speaking English back then. It must have been the beginning.
"Go gentle on her, Gabriel. You'll stab through her arm!"
"I know what I'm doing, chick. Just let me be…"
"Her arm looks so red and terrible. Remind me, Sonja, why you're doing this to yourself?" Young, naïve Sonja has been waiting all night for someone to ask this question. She inhales, straightens her back and delivers her speech:
"There's not a God in this world—or any other that will save us. Nothing that will blast thine holy light into our hearts; and nothing that will lift us out of the mire by the hand, to transport us to paradise. We aren't ever going to find a savior in this world…" Dessa chewed again on her bottom lip and smirked. Gabriel shot me a dubious glance and looked again at Lady Guadalupe.
"So then why—"
"You have to create one inside of yourself." I interrupted, dramatically. Over the buzzing I continued. "If you ever want a savior, something to save your soul, give your life a purpose and raise you up out of the filth and scum, you've got to conceive it of yourself. Immaculately. You have to create your own God inside of you, carry it in yourself and let it grow. You'll feed off of it and it will take from you. We all have this shining God inside of ourselves. It's this…indescribable something. It's the only thing we have that can truly save us from the evil in this world. We give birth to this, give it life, live FOR it…and it's all we need. And we know we'll be safe. I've got this creative musical voice burning inside me, and it's my own Jesus. I'm it's mother, it's Virgin Mary. I gave birth to my own God."
Dessa and Gabriel looked at each other, then at me. Even then I think she could see what had happened, in that sweltering little apartment in the middle of summer. The way the air shifted. Dessa understood now why I—we were here in Seattle, thousands of miles from home, playing in clubs and singing in streets. Scraping by, impossibly, week by week for some strange salvation that I couldn't even visualize. She understood that I was following my own savior, walking my own road to my own personal salvation, but dragging her along for the ride. I never realized the selfishness in this until now. She never complained, and I never slowed down to appreciate that she had sacrificed her own personal happiness so that I could chase down mine. And I hated the way Gabriel was looking at me now. With those round, hungry eyes. As if I spoke right to him. I felt uneasy. I felt like I had committed some kind of betrayal.
"It's true, you know…that's why I want it." If I could've squirmed I would have, but Gabriel gripped my arm even tighter now. I looked at Dessa, helplessly. They couldn't stop staring at me.
I'd been driving for an hour with the full intent of blowing my voice out by the time I got home. I had a small laundry list of tasks before the Great Letting Go. At the moment, it was to drive back home in a hung-over daze, screaming along to whatever happened to come on the radio, not matter how shitty I would probably think it was. Check. At this rate I would cough up a bruised lung as soon as I came into Pasadena. The condition I was in wasn't at all appropriate for driving at freeway speeds. The car was pushing past 80. I was moving in slow motion. I was weak, tired; my body ached and I felt a discernible emptiness. A hollowness. Like a dead tree, inside. I didn't want to think it, didn't want to feel it but it happened. With nothing to distract me but the music and the road it all came back and I couldn't even TRY to stop it.
"Don't tell Lyle, Dessa! Don't you fucking tell him what happened!" I was white, shaking, back up against the white tiles in the master bathroom. The rusty smell of blood and the buzz of adrenaline hung in the air, suffocating us. Dessa was laying more towels over the floor, soaking up a dark, awful puddle that I refused to look at.
"…What did just happen, Sonja? Was that…Oh my God, you got yourself knocked up, didn't you?! Is that what happened? What the fuck were you doing?!" Now she was as pale as I was. Larry was outside. He didn't make a sound but I knew he could hear every word, echoing off this ridiculously large bathroom.
"I DON"T KNOW! I don't know, Dessa, you think I keep track of shit like this? Look at my life. You honestly think I knew? I never—Don't tell him…don't tell Lyle. Don't tell him, Larry!" I yelled to the door. I closed my eyes and swallowed. I felt like I was gagging on air. Poor Lyle. He had given me this and I had destroyed it. Me and my heroin, me and my cocaine. My up-all-night psychosis, my recklessness. I had killed something that was a part of him; a part of me. I felt that I shouldn't care so much about it but I did. I cared so, so much. I had never felt so weak. Fucking pathetic. Completely guilty. He wouldn't be angry if he found out. He would be heartbroken that I had done this to myself, and that would be worse. It would mean that it really had gotten this bad. I loved him enough that I couldn't admit the truth of how hopeless I really was. That poor boy. He still believed in things like souls and true love. He called me an angel like he believed in a Heaven. Looking at the clump of dark red towels on the ground, I realized there would be no more happy endings for me, anymore.
"You're so sure it was his? Sonja?" Dessa asked me, attempting this careful, unassuming tone. I decided I hated her, for a while at least. I said something to her, but I can't remember what. After that I dragged myself up to my feet, feeling cold and tingly all over. Took two steps and fainted before I even hit the ground.
I woke up the next day in a hospital bed with a tube in my arm, jammed painfully in between the holes I'd already popped in myself. Poor Lyle was sitting right next to me. He kept looking at the ground and massaging his temples with his fingertips, while the nurse told us that I had overdosed, suffered a spontaneous abortion, and hemorrhaged for two hours before I even got there. Very informative, very matter-of-fact. Clean and simple. Larry, Dessa, Ronnie and even Teenie stopped by. Nobody did much but stand around awkwardly and avoid eye contact. Was this really the worst I'd done? I pretended that the hospital drugs made me tired, so that I could close my eyes and avoid everything and everybody in that super-sterilized room. Quinn Silvino made every personnel who came through the door sign a gag order, and personally planted a story to the media that I had overdosed in a hospital across town. We left a day later, after midnight, leaving no footprints behind.
The morning after I wouldn't get out of bed. Lyle and Teenie, in some stroke of genius, had gotten rid of all the drugs in the house. I had spent an hour watching TV before Dessa flew in and snapped it off, throwing the remote out of reach like a hot coal.
"No. You aren't watching that. I won't allow it."
"I need it. I don't wanna be left alone here with nothing to do. I can't listen to myself."
"You're not listening to that, either. I won't let you. You know, If I didn't have to meet with CrackedCore for you I'd keep you company myself."
"Damn it, leave me alone then. I'll just try and sleep or something."
"…Just promise me you won't watch TV for a while. You don't need that right now."
"Sure, right. I wish you'd at least give me a Soma, so I can sleep."
"Teenie took them."
"ALL of them?!" She shrugged and walked out, clicking the door closed behind her. As soon as she left, that melancholy sensation crept over me again. I hobbled over to the corner of the room and grabbed the remote. It was good for white noise, if it was good for anything.
I should've listened. If ever there was a day for following directions, and just listening to some good advice for once, it was that day. They were talking about me again. Rule #1 of being a famous fuck up is staying away from stories about yourself. Something I could never do. Like hearing your name whispered from a conversation across the room, I had to know, no matter how bad.
It was an entertainment show, about Hollywood and celebrities. They made it look so interesting on TV. I always wondered how they could possibly do it. After airy, effervescent red carpet coverage, I saw my own face. It was some stock footage, me on the red carpet, staring blankly at something off-screen. Me, yelling in a street somewhere in Europe. A voice-over with a disapproving tone glossed over the main points of what they had titled "The Grammy Scandal". Footage of me accepting the Grammy, smiling, shiny-eyed, with a drink in hand. The two talking heads babbled on, destroying my credibility; what remained of my reputation. The industry had obviously spent a lot of time and energy trying to alienate me from the rest of Hollywood. All of it fell on my deaf ears. Almost all of it. A young, semi-attractive "news personality" with a sarcastic tone and an acid tongue ripped through me. It was the last, tiny push over I needed to end my own story.
"Honestly? I feel sorry for her. You have to be grateful, though, in spite of everything. At least she's only destroying her own life. I can only assume if she ever bred we'd have to have every one of her children evacuated, haha…make sure they got away, as soon as possible." She smirked, never even batted an eyelash as she continued my crucifixion. And what could I possibly say to defend myself?
"I agree. I fuckin' know. I'm not unaware."
The road trip ended when the Lexus smashed headlong into the cement fountain in the front of the house. The sound of the crash was worse than the impact, however, and I easily forced the door open and climbed out. Water splashed cheerfully in the sun over the twisted metal. For some reason I slammed the door shut before strolling up the steps. Why not? Why not make an entrance, on this day of all days? My mind was rolling in full-tilt laundry list mode. Get inside, get everyone out, gather up the personal effects, wax philosophic, transcend. Easy. The door was locked. Dammit. I was too overburdened to screw around with keys. I rang the doorbell and waited. After a few, Teenie Baby came to the door, with a devil horns headband and fuzzy slippers. Stoned out of her mind on something heavy.
"Oh Sooonjaah…where didja go? We were trying to find you because we didn't know where you went to. But you're here now. Yay, Sonja! That's so wonderful. Me an' Preston—Hey, were did your shoes go?" She looked in my general direction with flushed cheeks and slightly crossed eyes.
"Hi, Teenie Baby. I left a present for you in the living room. Go look." She ambled off and I squeezed inside. Dessa's head popped in from the hallway. She was on the phone and mad as hell.
"NICE OF YOU TO JOIN US, SONJA! Mind telling me where you've been for the last TWO FUCKING DAYS?! While I've been cancelling appointments for you and tending to your drug-addicted friends?! And what in GOD'S NAME DID YOU DO THE FOUNTAIN?!! ARE YOU—"
"Who's on the phone?"
"Nobody. And by the way the whole band's in New York right now. You were supposed to meet with a promoter, I don't know if you remember but—" Dessa yanked the phone back to her ear and was silent. "She got back just now," she answered in broken English into the phone. The accent was there, even miles away through the phone.
"Is that Larry? Give me the phone." Dessa snapped back into Russian.
"Fuck off Sonja. I'm still trying to clean up the mess you made."
"Give me the phone, bitch! I know it's him. I have an important message."
"It's none of your business whose—"
"What other British men do I know, you awful cunt, I have an IMPORTANT MESSAGE! Move, you crazy bitch, I don't have time for this." Dessa tried to hit with with the phone while I pulled her around by her hair. We were screaming and fighting like we were 7 years old again. I wrapped my hands around her throat and scared the fighting spirit out of her.
"Important. Fucking. Message." I picked up the phone, which had fallen to the floor, while Dessa scurried away. Breathless, voice almost gone.
"I wanted you to know that I can't keep this up anymore. Not with what I know now, what I feel now…about everything. Literally everything; it's not the same as it used to be. There's no going to back to that place anymore. I can't do…the music industry anymore. I can't do the band. If you feel like getting someone else and keeping it going then I'm cool with that, and I'll give you all creative control. There's just no keeping this up for me, though. I think we both knew it, going in…that it would probably happen this way. I'm sorry. You have no idea how much."
There was a long silence. I could see Dessa driving away from the window.
"That's not really what this is about, is it? Sonja?" I tried a few times to answer but I could barely speak, my voice was so hoarse. I hated this part.
"I dunno. I can't answer that, Larry, I don't know what to say…"
"When could you ever keep a secret from me? I know what's going on. Just promise me you'll sit there until I can get some people over. You're acting a little crazy."
"Hey…don't act like you don't understand. Just take care of yourself, okay? You were such a great inspiration to me—"
"Stop saying that shit!"
"I dunno where Lyle is. Tell him I love him. I really did. I do."
This place was so big. Unnecessarily big. It was ridiculous, really. I can walk around here all day, meeting people on the stairs and in every other room. I've been wandering around this place for ten minutes and I still can't tell how many people are in my house. At least four. Preston was in the first floor den with friends, according to Teenie; who was inexplicably following me around, making buzzing sounds. I could feel the world beginning to close in on me. For a while I've taken to believing that reality was relative. That all that truly existed was this electric present. All that I could see, hear, smell, taste and feel in that instant was all that ever was, ever is. For all I knew, The universe could be just the steps in front of me, and all of existence ended past the gates of my California mansion. The door to my room…all there is, now. I turned around and gave my last hug to the last person I would ever see. Teenie, who was wiping her nose on her sleeve and singing to herself.
"Teenie Baby. Hey!" Her eyes floated up thickly and she mumbled.
"Dessa told me to watch you."
"I have a better idea." I got out my wallet and handed it to her. "Go get a taxi and buy us some prom dresses. We're going to go out dancing tonight."
"That sounds so fun. I'm gonna get us some…" She took off down the hall to the stairs. Part of me wished it hadn't been so easy.
Closed the door, locked it. The world was just this room. There was nothing else. In the closet was a safe, in the safe was the Grammy I'd never returned. I won. After everything, I'd be leaving with my one relic. The physical proof that, at one point, enough people out there could see through all the bullshit I had created, the absolute trainwreck I had become, down to the God in me. Did they see it through the same eyes I did? Could they realize I was nothing but the vessel after all? That I was just the point of origin for the music I'd created? They called me the Grunge Goddess but I was really just the Virgin Mary on my arm.
Opened up the bedside drawer. Sitting plainly inside, the only object inside, was that shiny Beretta, full of hollow tips. Of course, Lyle and Teenie would clear out all the drugs but leave the gun. It would be the first time I'd ever used it.
She lies on the bed, that exhausted, broken girl from Russia. The one in the mirror. A million pieces of her floating above me. She cradles two pointless pieces of metal, the Grammy and the gun, watching the Virgin Mary's face, reflected.
"I'm the mother of the savior in me. But I killed it, somehow. I became bigger than it. They could see me so well, they focused so much on what I did, it didn't matter what I said, what I sang. So now it comes down to how much I'm willing to give up to restore the balance. Back to where it was three years ago. Playing in tiny local clubs to fans that came for Horse and not me. Whose favorite songs weren't called singles. I should've known I'd gone too far, years ago. So what's a girl to do, when the most important thing in her life is crippled and overshadowed? Take out the only thing that overshadowed it. It's just me. The girl in the mirror above the bed points the Beretta to her head, and is hopeful for the first time in years…And if you can accept all this, you're just depraved enough to believe in the love hidden behind it.
The girl in the mirror—Sonja—I—pull the trigger.