That Sunday night, I went again to see Strealth Movers. There was less of a crowd with a number of empty seats. Karen noticed I was by myself and came and sat down with me.
“Where’s Jess?” she asked.
I told her about her European business trip.
“So, are you okay with her gone for so long?”
“Yeah, I’m used to it. She usually goes at least twice a year, most times not as long as this trip. She has a lot lined up for the next few weeks.”
“So, do you ever go off on a trip by yourself when she’s gone?”
“No, I just get a lot of work done.”
“Must be hard knowing she’s traipsing around Europe. Does she ever want you to go with her?”
“No. She says I’d be bored and a distraction.”
“Oh. Hey, I have to get out to the merch table and get it organized. Enjoy. See you later.”
I sat there with my wine, feeling lonely, sad, worried, and wondering. They came on stage and did another great concert, again, with all different material. I admired their professionalism and enthusiasm. They ended with two encores. I walked out and stopped to say good-bye to Karen.
“Hey, we’re all going out as soon as everyone’s gone. Why don’t you come with us?” she asked eagerly.”
“No, thanks for asking, but I don’t want to intrude.”
“You won’t be intruding. Hanna and Mick keep asking about you. They’d love to get to know you. Trust me. You will be more than welcome. Russell kept talking about how great it was to have lunch with you. Come on.”
And then the three of them appeared. Mick asked, “Where’s Jess? We wanted you two to join us to celebrate a great gig here. Sold out two nights and pretty much sold out of our CDs and T-shirts. Celebration-is-in-order. . . !”
I briefly explained about Jess and that just made them more enthusiastic about me joining them. “Can’t have you going home alone without some partying,” Mick said and everyone laughed.
Their insistent enthusiasm was contagious and I reluctantly relented. I helped schlep gear to their large Mercedes cargo van parked behind the venue and we headed to a sports bar Russell knew from his time in Chicago. The van had a comfortable bench seat that sat Hanna, Karen, and myself while the two guys rode the front, Russell driving, Mick shotgun. All their gear stored neatly in shelves on the sides in the cargo area and there was a blow up mattress for when they needed to do an all night run. Their energy was infectious. I was laughing with them. For the first time in the last few days I wasn’t thinking about my life. I was having a good time.
We arrived at the bar and Russell stopped to let us out while he and Mick went to find a parking spot. Since it was Sunday night, the bar was about half full. I was already planning on calling in sick tomorrow as I guessed it might be a late night.
We found a large table. The two guys joined us shortly and we all ordered a round of drinks and an array of appetizers. They seemed to be so close and happy together and I liked them all. I was also envious.
The night wore on with them sharing stories of their time on the road and at their homes in California. Hanna and Russell had recently moved into their own place, a two bedroom cottage a little inland from the coast, after camping at Hanna’s parents for almost two years. Karen and Mick lived in a one bedroom north of Sausalito. Their lives sounded to be full of friends, fun, and a lot of hard work with their music. I became even more envious with my imagination beginning to run wild, making me wonder even more about my own life.
The margarita, jealousy, the excitement all combined to make my mind start to flicker like an old black and white movie I saw years go. Then I was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion, both sadness and happiness at once. I felt tears coming and I excused myself and went to the front of the bar and pulled out some tissues.
A moment later, Hanna joined me, “What’s wrong, Dana? Did we say something to upset you?”
“Nothing anyone said, it’s everything. You are all seem so happy and fun. My life is boring. It’s going nowhere. I’m sorry. Apparently I’m having a little crises.”
I was realizing I really didn’t like Chicago. I wasn’t as happy with my work as I thought I’d be. I was unhappy about everything concerning my life. I never wanted to go back to Jess’s place again, even though she wasn’t there but was somewhere over the Atlantic probably drinking wine and chatting it up with anyone close. It wasn’t my home It never was. She never liked any ideas I had or anything of mine I wanted to add to the collection of items on shelves or on the walls. There was nothing of me there.
Hannah put here arm around my shoulders and pulled me to her. Her warmth just made me feel worse and I snuggled in and cried on her shoulder.
Karen joined us, “What’s going on. Dana? What’s wrong?”
I was calmed down enough to tell them what I was feeling.
Karen was the first to respond, “Jess is gone for what, seven weeks? Why don’t you take some time off and come with us for a few weeks. You can catch a flight back here when you want.”
“I couldn’t do that. With Russell and everything, he wouldn’t want me hanging around. With our history, it would be weird, awkward. I’d just be in the way.”
“No you wouldn’t. Russell will be fine with it. I know he will. And so will Mick. Us girls run the show, don’t we, Hannah?” Karen said with a smug smile.
“Yup, we make those fellas toe the mark. Come on, Dana. This sounds so fun. We’re leaving tomorrow for a few days at my folks place and we’ll do a gig in Iowa City. Then to Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Durango, Salt Lake, Lake Tahoe and home . . . about three weeks. You can help me at the merch table. It’ll be so fun. Come on, Say yes. Please?”
“Wait, hold on. This is too much. I can’t go off on the spur of the moment. I need to give more notice. What am I saying? No. This is crazy.”
“Tell them it’s a family emergency . . . it’s kind of an emergency. And it’s sort of like family, you used to be anyway. Just a little lie. Your firm will never know.”
“But it they ever found out . . . I’m a junior partner. I’d be blackballed from ever making partner.”
“From what you were saying earlier, do you even want to be ‘partner’?” asked Hannah.
Before I could think about an answer, Russell and Mick appeared and Mick asked, “So what’s going on here? What are you three conspiring about?”
Karen told them everything we had been talking about.
Mick said, “That’d be cool having you along. What do you think Russell?”
“Yeah, that’d be cool,” he said with a furrow in his brow, but smiling.
“No, it won’t work. Thanks for your concern, but no. I’d just be in the way. And going to your parents house, no thanks. They probably hate me.”
Karen said, “They’ve changed about 180 degrees from when you were around. They’d probably love to see you again.”
“Hannah said, “Oh come on. You won’t be in the way. They like having Mick and me around. That says a lot. We have a ton of room in the van. It’d be so nice to have you. Really. Do we have to beg?”
All four of them started talking at once about how fun it would be to have me along, someone new to break the monotony of just the four of them. I shut them all out. I was not going to go with them. I firmly rejected their pleas and called a cab. Before I left, Hannah, Karen and I exchanged contact information. My cab was there and I left.
I walked into Jess’s condo with a new understanding that it was indeed hers and I simply lived there with her to keep her company and give her some pleasure in bed, the later not appealing to me anymore if it ever had. I needed my own place and would begin a search tomorrow.
I lay awake with all that happened rolling around in my head like a looped tape. After a sleeping pill, I went into a restless sleep awaking before my alarm. I felt horrible from all the emotional trauma from the last few days and my restless night. I got up, made coffee and stared out the window into space. I hate lying, but called my office at 8:00 when I knew the phones would be on and told my secretary that I had a family emergency and needed to be out of town for at least a week. After the usual expressions of sympathy, we figured out who could take my case load and appointments and I was free for the week.
My call to the office had consumed over an hour. I called Karen and they were already outside of the city heading towards Interstate 80 and Iowa City. I could rent a car and meet them there. Screw it. Why not. A week on the road. It might do me good, clear my head.
I called a rental agency and they would pick me up in two hours, the time I would need to pack what clothes I thought I would need: some casual clothes I had, which wasn’t much, underwear, toiletries, and I was ready to go. The rental car arrived and I dropped the agent’s assistant back at his office and headed out of town. I cranked some tunes on the radio. Every mile from Chicago, I felt lighter, freer, more adventurous . . . and scared to death.