When the dog died, you cried for hours. Days, really.
I didn’t know what to do for you, so I didn’t do anything. I’d never seen you cry before. So I ignored you. I wanted to hug you. I wanted to give you a Dove chocolate and watch that smile spread across your face. But I knew it wouldn’t work this time.
That was the first show you missed. Well, you know what I mean.
I didn’t notice, honest, for most of the set. It wasn’t until the sad one that Jeremy does solo, when we just sit in the back and try to cool down, that one. It wasn’t until that one that I looked out and I found Rhiannon’s hair and you weren’t there.
My stomach hurt and I tried to swallow my water.
It was hot that night. Dead August. We were playing in some podunk town, sold out I think, but mostly to a bunch of teenage girls.
Geezer was shooting up just off stage, talking to me. I couldn’t hear him, but he kept talking.
My clothes were damp and I was nauseous. I’d had too many. I was too dehydrated. We were always too dehydrated.
I blinked my eyes and it was like you had never been there. It was ten months ago. You were just a girl I’d smiled at once, and then gone home.
When I got back to the bus, you weren’t there either. Rhiannon said something about it. I laughed and threw my sweat-soaked shirt on the ground, stood in front of the fan. Rhi’s friend circled my waist from behind and flirted.
I pulled away, hot.
I stumbled out of the bus again. I almost busted on that last step, the stupid one, the one that’s about six inches farther down than the others. Who designed that shit?
I didn’t know where to look for you, but I knew you couldn’t be far. I wasn’t really looking for you. I didn’t want to get into it. I didn’t know what to say.
But you weren’t hard to find. You were right there, on the other side of the lot.
It wasn’t safe there, I told you. You turned your head, gave me that quick squint. Said shut up.
I told you to get back to the bus. But you didn’t want to. It was too crowded. I couldn’t argue with you there. I asked if you wanted a beer. You didn’t.
I knew I should say something about the dog, but I didn’t know what. So I said something stupid, something honest, but something stupid, about how he was just a dog and we could get another after Phoenix if you wanted, a smaller one, if that’s what you wanted this time. I hate those stupid small dogs, little rats, little disasters of god complexes.
That just made the tears start again and you slapped me.
So then I was angry, really angry, because I was piss drunk and you’d slapped me when I was trying, I was.
I told you to see if I cared if you got mugged or raped or whatever and went back to the bus.
I don’t know where you slept that night. I didn’t wake up until late. Jeremy wanted to practice, do band things, before we got to the next town. We wrote some stuff out on the couches, made Rhi move back to the bed. You must have been in the loft with Johanah, I guess.
We got in around noon. Keesey crashed since he’d gotten up so early to drive. You and Rhiannon and Johanah and Bridget, who wasn’t even supposed to be there, left to get food. You wouldn’t look at me.
I showered. It felt good. I had slept on all that sweat. I figured that’s why you hadn’t come in the bunk.
I got sick in the shower. The night before’s beer or something.
We had to meet with the venue, but I was starving. You brought back a hamburger and let me kiss your cheek.
Rhiannon and Johanah got a hotel room, but I didn’t want you to go with them, so you didn’t.
We set everything up and got all situated at the venue and you watched from the audience. It was a big room, completely open, with a small upstairs set up like a strip club for regular people. You stood in the middle of that big room, feet together, arms crossed, head back, staring up at the high ceiling until you made yourself dizzy.
We all took a walk around the town. It was nice, much better than the last one. We goofed off in the stores, trying on sunglasses and hats. Geezer got a magnet for the bus. I bought you a push pop, but you didn’t smile.
I held your hand, and you let me.
You starting crying right there in the middle of the sidewalk, and Geezer got really uncomfortable and Jeremy was giving me a hard time and Rhiannon was doing that screeching thing she does, yelling at me, telling me to take you somewhere private. I was angry. I asked you why you were crying and you kind of crumpled so I did, I took you somewhere private, meaning a side aisle of the closest tourist shop I saw.
You had snot running down your mouth and you were trying to be pretty and quiet but you weren’t at all.
I asked if this was about the fucking dog and you said no, Allie, it’s not about the fucking dog. None of this is about the fucking dog. It was a dog, Allie. A real dog, a living dog.
I knew it was a dog. I’m not stupid. And I knew it wasn’t about the dog but I didn’t want to talk about what it was about and I didn’t know why you were crying there in the middle of the sidewalk. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I went and found you some napkins and you blew your nose and it was so red from the rough paper. I kissed it because it was cute and you looked at me with blank eyes and I was scared.
We went back outside, but everyone else had left by then. It took you a while to stop crying.
We found a park and sat on the bench there. You put your head on my shoulder and we sat there until I thought I should head back to the venue.
You whispered something and I heard you but I didn’t want to. So I said what. And you repeated it, said you didn’t want to go to the show tonight. And I got sad but I didn’t want to be sad so I got angry. And I said you missed last night, so come tonight.
And we got into it and you said they were all the same, why did it matter if you missed one or two.
So I left you on that fucking park bench and I was so angry, because I was sad and you weren’t going to be there. Rhiannon asked where you were and I said I didn’t fucking know and I didn’t fucking care but I was lying. I worried about you that whole show. I slipped off stage during Jeremy’s solo and asked Johanah if she’d heard from you. She gave me the pity eyes. Said you’d gone back to the bus, you were fine.
When the set ended, I didn’t want to see you. I got really drunk with Geezer at the bar in the venue. Some girls figured out we were in the band that had played and I let them trace my beard with their fingers and one put my finger on her lips and I let her.
I wanted to apologize to you, but you were already asleep and I was drunk, so I slept in Keesey’s seat. And by morning, I didn’t want to apologize anymore, and you didn’t either.
We had the next day off, so we left town later than usual. I slept on the bunk once you woke up for a few hours. Then Keesey found a good parking lot where we could set up and we practiced outside for a while.
The next morning you told me you were going home. Not forever, you just needed a vacation. I wasn’t stupid. I said Annie. And you said nothing was wrong, you just needed to go home. And I said Annie. And you went back into the bus.
For a split second, I forgot Benji wasn’t there, smoking behind the bus, playing with that damn dog. I couldn’t talk to him about you. And I almost collapsed right there on the pavement.
Instead I got high with Geezer on the curb where you couldn’t see and I took a walk and I cried and I almost didn’t go back to the bus but then the buzz wore off.
You weren’t lying.
You left the next morning. You almost missed your flight because Keesey was hungover. Rhiannon gave you a long hug and was crying and going on and on, and Johanah gave you a kiss on the cheek. Then they got back on the bus, but Rhiannon gave me the eyes before she did.
I stood there, stupid. I didn’t know what to say. You just looked at me, and I felt myself getting angry but I didn’t want to get angry before you left.
You said you’d be back next week after the tour was over and I nodded. I pulled my hands out of my pockets and hugged you and you cried and then it was really hard not to cry, too. I teased you, told you to knock it off, there wasn’t anything to cry about. You kissed me for the first time since Benji’d died, a really slow kiss, both our lips trembling bad. We sat down on the curb and the words came and we talked about nothing and everything and I talked about what shows were coming up, that we’d tried out a new song the night before. You asked what it was about and I told you the truth for once and I said it was about you. You thought I was being cute but I wasn’t.
You asked if I was okay and I reminded you that you were the one who couldn’t stop crying.
Keesey honked and scared the shit out of us both so we got up finally, and then you really were late, so I carried your stuff in while you checked in and you kissed me again and waved over your shoulder and I knew Keesey was getting anxious so I waved and went back to the bus.
They let me sulk in my bunk for a while but then we really did have to practice, so life went on.
You called me when you got home. Said it was weird. I told you to keep your chin up and give your mom a hug. You laughed.
I put on my best of Bruce album and tried not to think.
You were supposed to meet us the day after the Phoenix show, so when we got into the city, I looked up a shelter and went early the morning of the show. There was a puppy there, I knew you would love it. It was some kind of mutt, but it looked like a lab to me. The lady working there said it wouldn’t get as big as a lab, but it had some lab in it. I said good, you didn’t want big anyway. I thought what you would name a dog and I chose Janey because they wanted me to put something on the form before I left.
Jeremy was pissed because I was late, and because he’d never wanted a dog on the bus in the first place. I told him we were almost done, just a few more nights, and that dog was so damn cute he couldn’t say much.
We played that night, real good, and I was happy like the old times. I felt it like the old times, before I needed a few just to get through a set, before Benji, before you. Jeremy let me sing your song, Annie. The crowd ate it up.
I danced with Johanah after the show. We drank expensive whiskey to celebrate and danced and it was hot, but a good hot.
I woke up early the next morning. Bridget let me borrow her car to go get you from the airport, because Keesey wasn’t awake and it’s a lot of gas anyway.
I was fifty hours early to get you. I had the dog in the dog in the car with me, but when the sun started rising higher, it got too hot, so I put the dog on the leash and went to wait in the shade of the airport.
You called about an hour before you were supposed to land, and at first I worried your plane had gotten delayed and I knew Jeremy would be mad if we were too late, but before I said hello I knew what you were going to say.
You wouldn’t give me a reason, and you wouldn’t stop fucking crying and I didn’t want to listen to you crying and Janey was hungry or had to piss, I could tell. So I cut it short. Not angry, just short. Said I wouldn’t bother you but I missed you something awful and I hoped you always knew that. You started in on some bullshit about this not being real life and needing normalcy and about the pressure of being my rock, which I knew was true but I didn’t want to hear, so I said I’d see you around, which was stupid, because I wouldn’t. And that was that.
I drove around for a while before I went back to the bus. I didn’t want to explain.
I could tell by Rhiannon’s smirk that she already knew. I don’t know why she stuck around if she hated us all so much.
Jeremy wouldn’t stop talking and I was trying to feed Janey and he was in my way so I punched him, but I didn’t count on him coming back at me, so we wrestled but you know he’s got forty pounds on me so he had me pinned easy and I was crying so he let me go and I fed Janey.
I took a shower and got sick, tasting the whiskey all over again.
Janey barked so I let her up in my bed and she curled up next to me and we slept all the way back to California. It was like you’d never been there at all in the apartment, because you hadn’t.
Jeremy wanted to change the lyrics to your song but I wouldn’t let him. I pulled some shit about artistic integrity but I just didn’t want to have to think about you every time we played it.
We did some local shows for a while, and every time I found Rhiannon’s hair but not yours.
Geezer got clean, and a lot less fun to be around. He wanted to get serious, and Jeremy wanted to go what he called adult alternative, on his own. So Keesey signed him as an individual client and we played here and there, but then Jeremy started a solo tour and took Rhiannon with him. I bummed with Geezer for a while, but he got sick of it, so me and Janey got our own place with my savings and I got a job writing for one of those shitty local weekly magazines, writing music reviews of course.
I took up smoking, cigarettes this time, and I go visit Benji’s mom practically every night. I let her watch Janey during the day so she’s not lonely. She’s sweet. You’d like her.