Two Years Ago
I'm done. Wholly and completely finished with my friends, my family, the random strangers who pop up out of nowhere asking for directions, and this life—my life as I know it.
Admittedly, I have a flair for the dramatic, but there isn’t one drop of pretense in that statement or a means to clearly rationalize the current state in which I find myself .
This isn’t some petulant child, didn’t-get-my-way kind of outrage that my mother would attribute to my so-called “wild” streak. If immaturity and wanderlust could be blamed for the agitated itch under my skin, or the uncharacteristically short tempter that has me lashing out in frustration, instead of cracking jokes, my life would be a hell of a lot easier.
After touring the globe nonstop for what now feels like a century, I’d been all for coming home, back to Vegas. I’d wanted the dry heat, and the badass women. I’d wanted to step up big time for my family by physically being present to take an active role in my paternal grandmother’s care. I’d wanted to back my boy Adam on his epic journey to get custody of his little sister.
I had good intentions.
The best of intentions, if you ask me, but somewhere in there, Mer- cury moved into retrograde, and I entered a parallel universe where left is masquerading as right and up has been disguising itself as down. From where I’m standing, one plus one equals twenty and I’m not sure how to make sense of any of it.
My grandmother is...a shadow of her former self. The woman I grew up with was strong, and intelligent. She immigrated by herself to the U.S. as a teenager from rural China and became a business owner during a time when most women stayed home with the kids.
I barely recognized her when I came home. The woman I remem- bered, the one preserved in countless memories, who looked at me with bright, knowing eyes and an easy smile that could melt away the worst of days, is gone, lost in the fog of her mind.
Knowing her diagnosis and experiencing it firsthand was and still is jarring.
Alzheimer’s is a disease that uniquely ravages the mind, pilfering mem- ories, extricating personality traits, stripping a person of nuance and the subtle differences that make them an individual in a sea of collective people and plac- es. The impact is far reaching, and it’s been hell for my entire family.
Maybe it’s harder for me because I was gone so much and didn’t get to see the tiny fissures in her disposition as the past began to dissolve into the present, wiping clean the vibrant canvas that had been her life. I’d never witnessed the memory loss that began with small things like misplaced keys or her searching for words in English that previously came easy, nor was I here when they escalated to situations like her taking an eight-hour drive to northern Nevada because she couldn’t remember the correct free- way to get home.
Whatever the reason, seeing my nai nai so small, scared, and confused hit me like a ton of bricks, all at once, with one fell swoop, and the weight of the knowledge, that my grandmother is on borrowed time, her days lim- ited to hours and minutes, is crushing.
The conversations that I had with my parents and brothers did little to prepare me for the first time I walked into her house, and she didn’t look at me as much as through me. Dark brown eyes dimmed with confusion met mine with a vacant stare, no spark of recognition.
I was gutted.
My eyes burning from the pressure of tears and my throat aching with the abject misery of this new normal. Six months after that first time visiting, it has not gotten any easier.
The tears come and go on a whim and the ache has traveled down to my chest, taking up residence in my heart.
On a purely cognitive level, I understand the disease; I’ve googled all the things. WebMD is a rabbit hole that almost had me believing that I had stage two dementia, a mild cognitive decline. I read the list of symp- toms, nodding my head like, yes, I do have jaunts of time from tour where being on stage at concerts runs into parties teeming with people and life. No timelines for the night. No clear idea of when I left the stage or how I ended up back at my hotel.
In my profession, parties have a tendency of turning into long nights punctuated with beautiful bodies, expensive booze, and potent drugs. Half the time, I honestly can’t remember why I picked the redhead over the brunette.
Was it the eyes or the ass? Did she have an infectious laugh or a witty personality?
Often in the light of day I can zero in on a sensation, but I can’t attach it to the swipe of lips against mine or the press of heat from a well-sculpted body open in invitation.
Is that dementia?
Further internet research assures me that it’s not. According to the Urban Dictionary, what I’m living is a “rock star lifestyle.” Shit you not. Some sad sack out there has taken the time to define how I live my life. Most of it’s spot-on like the unremembered nights and lavish clothes and sponsored items. My sneaker game is on point, just saying.
My lapse in memory is because of access to excess.
My grandmother’s loss is time and age, or possibly a buildup of pro- teins in and around her brain cells. Her memory loss and confusion are based in the physical not the habitual.
Even with all the information that I’ve gathered since learning of her diagnosis, it hurts when I walk in the door and she doesn’t recognize me. It hurts even more that just my presence agitates her and creates anxiety.
I admit it’s almost a relief when I show up and she’s lethargic, wanting to sleep for hours on end. At lease then I know she’s getting some peace, but the sleepiness comes in bouts between the nights where insomnia keeps her lids open and her body sluggishly animated. It’s a messed-up cycle that wears on the nerves and frays the heart.
Not all is lost. Every so often I see the spark of recognition. Not that she knows me, Daniel, but she knows I’m her family, her kin. I live for those moments. When Nai Nai looks at me the same way she did when I was a little boy sitting at her office desk doing homework, but I swear those moments of lucidity make it hurt worse when she once again eyes me with some weird mix of indifference and mistrust like I’m a stranger.
Now, add all of that to Sin, the lead singer of my band, giving the asshole who broke her heart and damn near ended our band another shot. It’s real in these streets. She thought she was so slick creeping with her ex, Jacob Johnson.
Sinclair James is many things. Creative. Talented. A stunning show- stopper with flawless cocoa-brown skin, a dimpled smile that can melt polar ice caps, a figure that’s tight where it’s supposed to be tight and soft where it’s supposed to be soft. The woman is a perfect ten by any standards. She’s also one of my best friends and the person who pulls us together as a band. With all the things that she is, covert and sneaky are not among them.
Sin’s poker face is a cross between a deer caught in the headlights and chagrin, or in other words, it’s nonexistent. Which is why I’m sure that Adam, our lead guitarist, knew about her bumping uglies with her mister before the sheets were dry. Sometimes it seems like he knows Sin better than she knows herself.
Miles, the bassist, and I aren’t that far behind either. It didn’t take a private investigator to fit all the pieces together with her disappearing acts after the concerts, or the “No, you guys go ahead; I’ll just turn in early” cop-outs. Sin is a night owl, more awake and vibrant when the moon is at its peak and the rest of the world is quiet. Turn in early, my ass.
Her relationship became front and center when the freak-a-zoid who had been stalking her for God knows how long took aim and fired round after round toward the stage at our last concert. It was something straight out of a music scene from the late ‘90s or early 2000s.
It was surreal.
The music kind of ground to a halt, leaving a cavern of sound filled by screams from the audience. I’d been relieved to see Miles fall in step next to me when I got off the stage but the image of Adam clutching a bloodied Sin to his chest, crying and begging—no, screaming—for help was terrify- ing in the moment and haunting now.
I remember with startling clarity all the details of that night. The thunderous sound as a stampede of fans ran from the venue. How Seth, one of the security guards, jumped off the stage, nailing the shooter. The para- medics practically prying Sin from Adam’s hands and the worried glances that bounced between them as they bandaged the wound and loaded her on the gurney. The aftermath of Miles and me, shaken but determined to get to the hospital.
We’d lost everything, or at least it felt like we had.
There can be no Sin City without Sin. Sitting in the hospital, waiting for the doctors to give us news, was one of the hardest things I’ve done.
It was some impending-death-type shit.
Images from my life flashed before my eyes. I literally saw the faces of my parents and siblings. Disappointed eyes looking at me with a double helix of pride and disappointment because of my absence from the familial circles and my chosen career. I saw the years of concerts and the comradery with my bandmates and best friends. I also saw the parties. All the gratu- itous sex with women whose faces I barely remember and the loneliness of finding my way to an empty hotel room, or cushioned seat in the bus or plane taking us to our next destination.
I knew with aching clarity that our band was over. That life as we previously knew it was over.
Devastation swept through my body like a rising tide, slowly increas- ing with force and intensity, eventually drowning every hope and goal I’d held for our band. That level of dejection still didn’t hold a candle to the ruin etched in the forehead of Sin’s ex, current, whatever role he was in, or the despair radiating from the stiff lines of his body.
His concern mirrored what I saw between my parents growing up. It was big and in your face. Completely unapologetic and demanding. It was ownership. It was love. It was not at all what I expected coming from the man who broke Sin in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend.
There was no way I was standing between them. Even Adam stood down, and that’s saying something after the history between those two.
As it turned out, there was no need to step in. Jake completely stepped up for our girl. He practically moved into her hospital room. Hemmed her ass up at his house for recovery. Has barely let her out of his sight since she’s been well enough to sing again. Personally, I’m waiting for the sparks to fly tonight when we get back on stage for the first time since the shooting. There’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll pull her off the stage during sound check and all the hemming and hawing that Miles, Adam, and I have been doing the last couple of days will be for nothing.
So, there was that, which is completely different from the next level of hell we descended into with Adam.
Our lead guitarist has been spiraling for a while. He’s losing his shit over...well, everything.
Before returning to Vegas, Adam found out that his mother died of an overdose, leaving him as the sole provider and support for a sister he knew nothing about.
His egg donor was never going to win Mother of the Year. She was awful. He knew it, the band knew it, everyone in the valley and quite a few beyond knew how horrible that woman had been.
Adam should’ve been relieved, but he isn’t. Hasn’t been for months.
Instead, he’s depressed and sullen. His sadness, its own tangible thing, has eclipsed his friends, the music, our band. And Sin, the expert in all things Adam, has been so wrapped up in figuring out the past, she’s either missed the withdrawn attitude or doesn’t recognize just how far gone he really is. All she keeps saying is “Give him space” and “Let him muddle through it,” but it’s hard to watch him struggling by himself.
Adam is hurting and, for once, it would be nice if I could be there for him the way he’s always been there for everyone else.
It was hard to go there when I only see his pretty-boy face every other weekend at call time. Adam times his arrivals to the minute. Showing up just in time to get his guitar from the stagehand and literally exiting stage left as soon as the lights dim.
I think it’s about time we stage an intervention. Somebody has to before he’s so far gone, none of us can reach him.
Now, add that to Miles, our bassist, dealing with his wife Kisha’s trou- bled pregnancy, and you might have a microscopic picture of what a day in the life of Daniel Xu looks like.
Here’s to hoping that the cosmos once again align favorably, because tonight is our first show since the shooting. I should have already been out of the house and on the road, but my life is in shambles, I’m a mess, and I can’t find my phone.
It’s here somewhere.
I whip my head around my condo hoping to see the bright yellow cover of my cell phone standing out like an alien beacon. My foot hits the tip of an empty green champagne bottle as I rush back into the living room, dropping to my haunches to peer under the sofa.
Damn, not there either.
Standing to my full height, I take a couple of steps toward the bed- room when I hear a faint ringing coming from between the couch cush- ions. In two long strides I’m back at the sofa freeing my phone and what appears to be hot pink lace panties.
I press the green circle and raise the phone to my ear.
“Hey, Mom,” I say, tilting my head to hold the phone between my cheek and shoulder. I grab my car keys from the coffee table and pocket the under- wear—mental note to self: throw that shit away—and head out the front door.
“Please don’t forget that you have a shift with your grandmother to- morrow,” she says matter-of-factly.
How could I forget? I’ve received four text messages from each mem- ber of the family—outside of the group thread, of course—daily and hour- ly reminders have been scheduled on the shared Google calendar, and to follow those biting votes of confidence, now I get a mom phone call, strict expectation dripping with disappointment.
“I’ll be there,” I snap, locking my front door and heading down the hallway to the elevator.
“That’s what you said last time...” my mother starts.
“One time, Mom. One time in six months I forgot.”
“And it was the one time she ended up in the hospital after roaming the streets alone for God knows how long.” A long-suffering sigh fills the silence between us. “Daniel, I know you want to help, but your lifestyle and career are...a challenge. Your grandmother deserves the best care possible and I’m—we’re...”
There’s a long, uncomfortable pause before she clears her throat and starts again. “Your father and I...we just...”
“Want to make sure that I’m up for it,” I say, punctuating each word with a stab at the elevator button. Everyone knows that hitting the button multiple times will bring the car faster while simultaneously diminishing my anxiety and frustration.
“If it’s too much, we can figure something out,” she says quietly.
“It’s not.” I step into the elevator and watch the doors close.
“I won’t let you guys down again.”