I used to blackout every night and it was marvelous. I took those dark periods of nothingness as a sign I had made it. That the world was affirming what my fragile ego was slow to accept. That I was a beloved success. I mean, what persona is supposed to party harder than a rock star? None in my book. So, when reality started slipping from my intoxicated hands, I didn’t worry. I didn’t turn to my friends and bandmates, my manager, or my mom to help me get a handle on my mind. I embraced it. I let hedonism pull me further down the rabbit hole and patted myself on the back. Job well done, Kennedy. You are officially amazing.
Now, I realize how utterly wrong I was. That losing a part of your life isn’t how you celebrate it. I took for granted that I was the reason I blacked out all those crazy nights on tour. I did it to myself. Alcohol, drugs, whatever caught my eye was all I needed to send me into the darkness that was my happy place. How foolish was I not to see this as a problem? Most people would turn away from a blackhole but I just skipped right into it. It wasn’t until it had twisted me completely upside-down that I tried to find my way out. Unfortunately, even when I got clean, the blackouts still came. My control was gone. And now, I sit alone in my cage, living my worst fear: that I am as forgotten as those drunken nights punched from my memory like holes in Swiss cheese.
“Fuck yeah! Thank you...whatever city we’re in tonight!” I shout as the final chords of our last song of the night reverberate through the sweaty, packed venue. I take a big swig from my bottle of tequila that has just a whisper of orange juice mixed in, and the crowd goes nuts with approval. I chuck the nearly empty bottle into the masses, not knowing if it will hit someone in the head or if someone will catch it when it comes back down. Either way, it’ll make a memorable story for the lucky recipient. I turn and stumble off the now empty stage right before the house lights come up. Thank God. I hate when I don’t make it off in time and they blind me. Sure-fire way to kill my buzz. Not that I mind increasing my intake to make up for it. It’s just jarring.
This is our fifteenth show of a thirty stop tour. The first dozen were along the West Coast and now we’re somewhere in Middle America. I lost track a while ago. I love not knowing where I am. I’m constantly trying to prolong my high and being unaware of where I’m careening to in my tour bus is like being in a drunken haze while sober. Everyone gets a good laugh at my ignorance, but it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes, if I happened to glance a ‘Welcome to...’ street sign or some other identifier (like the Space Needle or St. Louis’ Arch) I still play dumb if the timing is right to get a laugh. Why not? It’s only for shits and giggles.
Right now, I couldn’t care less. I push through the throng of dark clad roadies and staff that blend in with the dim, backstage atmosphere eager to continue the party and celebrate our mid-tour anniversary. Then again, I was also ready to celebrate our quarter-tour and eighth-tour anniversary. Any excuse to go all in, not that I need one.
My band, Tracing Stars, has clawed its way from obscurity to notoriety over the last several years. While we’re no Nirvana, Muse, Twenty One Pilots...insert current mega-rock act here...we are formidable. Headlining sold out shows at all the mid-sized venues that attract alternative music fans around the country. We are particularly popular with the college set, maybe because we’re about the same age. Maybe not. I think we’re just the right mix of underground cool with borderline, mainstream appeal to make us the ‘it’ act of the moment.
Yet, as I dodge another scruffy dude hefting heavy extension cords like they’re spaghetti noodles, I square my shoulders reminded I’ll always have something to prove as a female lead singer in this male-dominated industry. Even three out of my four bandmates are guys. I can still drink them all under the table and get up, and do an in-store signing, satellite radio interview and acoustic set before I get sloshed again. I’d say that makes me as badass as any man playing the same part.
I sidestep a stack of dismembered drums and nearly smack into a stocky, local concert promoter I met before the show.
“Shots, shots, shots!” he chants, at my appearance.
“Absolutely later,” I reply, as I turn and trot backwards, not breaking my stride. He smiles and his eyes betray the same expression all my male counterparts show after they hang with me for the first time: wonder and appreciation. Most are leery, at first, of letting the cute but edgy girl into their boys-only club, but it doesn’t take them long to realize I won’t kill their good time. Usually, I enhance it. The dynamic is different when you mix fun loving, female musicians into the free-for-all that is a rock tour. You might not get at a pure, sausage fest.
For example, last night after our show everyone went to the bar. We skewed ninety percent male to ten percent female. The guys were the instigators for chugging Jaeger bombs, but it was the ladies who got everyone dancing. How often do you see a group of pierced and tatted up guys decide to jump up on a four foot wall and gyrate? Proves we’ve got just the right balance of estrogen and testosterone in our group. I’m not sure what happened after that but I hear it was epic.
So far, tonight is shaping up to be a fabulous repeat. I wink a green eye at my bassist, Jack, as he flirts with some groupies under the glowing exit sign. I strut out the backstage door toward the tour bus to ditch my sweat-soaked jeans and tight, gray tank top for something less disgusting. Let the chaos begin.
“Kennedy? Did you hear me? Are you still having the blackouts?”
I pull myself out of my trance and try to focus on my therapist. The tall string bean with the cul-de-sac head of gray hair. I’m struggling today, more so than I have in a while. Not like when I first arrived at this SoCal institution, but damn if it’s not close.
“I think I was just blacked out,” I mumble.
This elicits that look I’ve become all too familiar with. That alternating crinkle and creasing of his forehead indicating a battle between pity and disapproval. Even after two months in the psych hospital, I can’t seem to prove my dissolutions aren’t my fault. That what is happening to me now is because of ‘him.’ Nobody fucking believes me.
I wake the next morning on the faux wood floor of the bus. My hot pink bra dangles from the top bunk where I should have slept. It waves at me like a sad, deflated balloon, or two deflated balloons I guess. I rub my temples and attempt to sit up, wondering if my pounding headache is from the hangover or if I fell out of my bed. Sadly, it’s happened before. Davey, our guitarist, joked about buying me those rails they put on toddler beds to keep the kids from rolling out. I’d promptly flipped him off, but maybe it wasn’t such a terrible idea.
Slyly, I peak through the thin crack of the nearest bunk’s curtain and spy sleeping Sonny, my best friend and keyboardist, who stays below me. She’s offered to swap beds, but I’ve declined. While there’s no difference in the amount of space in the top or bottom cubby, the oppressive bottom strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen. Like Sonny’s stick-like frame could really make the top bunk spontaneously cave in when I’ve seen Jack and two girls cram into his uncomfortably. Still, I’d rather not let it stress me out when I’m trying to sleep.
I stand and stumble down to the small, galley kitchen for water and a handful of aspirin. I’ve got a stash of Vicodin in my bunk, but I’ll wait to take one at lunch. We’ve got to meet with our manager, Samantha, and she is such a bore. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything she’s done for us including sealing the deal on our first album contract with a label. It’s just her damn punctuality and put-together-ness bug the shit out of me. Thankfully, since we’ve been on tour, I’ve been able to minimize our interactions. Too much other stuff happening. She mostly deals with Davey, anyhow, since he’s the one that convinced her to be our manager. Works for me.
The bus is eerily quiet. I glance at the clock on the black microwave mounted above the creamy, laminate counter. 9:00 a.m. Of course, I’m the only one up at this ungodly hour. Whenever we have to do a morning radio show, we all nearly disintegrate like vampires in the sun. Most of the time, we opt not to go to bed rather than try to grab a few hours of sleep in those cases. Paul, the guitarist in one of our opening bands, has A.D.D. but hands out his Adderall prescription like its Skittles. I think he never sleeps so he likes it when no one else does too.
I hit the tiny closet of a bathroom then decide to hoist myself back into my bunk to sleep for another couple hours. There’s a slight murmur when I step on the ladder connecting my bed to Sonny’s, but it doesn’t sound like she wakes. I can’t see her anymore behind the ugly, tan curtain. I’ve asked to have those changed a million times, but no luck. I make a note to bug Samantha again. Not worth the expense she’s said. Whatever. It’s our money, isn’t it? I can waste it on whatever superfluous crap I’d like.
Stomping on the last wrung, I smile with anticipation at crawling back into my nice, cozy bed. I pull the butt-ugly curtain back but my delight is short-lived. There’s someone already asleep in there.
“She doesn’t seem to be improving,” my psychiatrist Craig tells my mother by the door outside my room. For being a psychiatric hospital where cuckoo birds are constantly yelling random shit, they didn’t soundproof the place very well. If I heard voices in my head I could easily think the girl next to me, who likes to randomly call out cereal names, is one of my personalities.
Damn, can she stick to the sugary ones at least?
I hunch cross-legged on my uncomfortable, metal-framed bed and stare at my white walls as though I’m not eavesdropping. Honestly, they talk as though I’m nowhere to be found anyhow. As if being here has somehow negated my claim to be a person. I am now just a thing they study and discuss. The ‘inanimate’ patient.
The first two weeks I was here I was anything but still. I yelled. I pounded on the unpadded walls. I attempted to tip over my bed but that fucker is heavy, and bolted to the wall I later realized. Instead, I kicked my nightstand, punched my armoire, and tore the plain sheets off the bed and tried to stuff them in the square window in my door. Lucky for the people observing me the flimsy sheets wouldn’t stay in the little peephole.
They like that window. Gives them a peek at what they’re walking into before they hand me my pills. That’s why I tried to block it. I wanted to improve my odds of scaring the shit out of the orderly with the pill tray, and steal his stash. I could probably get a decent amount in my system before reinforcements arrived. Once, I swallowed six pills at once with no liquid. We’d played an outdoor festival and our water bottles had seemed too far to walk back for at the time. I could do at least ten of those little, pill-holder cups in thirty seconds.
Do I have a death wish? No. I just want to be in control of my blackouts again. To know the dark oblivion my mind is swimming in is one I created. Not one I’ve been shoved into against my will.
“What can you do to help her?” my mother asks, pleadingly. Poor woman. Not only did her good, Christian daughter join a secular rock band and indulge in most of the seven deadly sins, she’d gotten herself locked up in the loony bin. I can just imagine the prayer circles they are having for me now.
Craig takes a long, stoic pause and, out of my peripheral vision, I see him shift his shiny head to peer at me through the pristine glass.
“Right now, the only one who can help Kennedy is herself. She’s attached her condition to an external source when the issue is most likely internal. As long as she hides behind her story, she’ll never be able to face the true trigger to stop what’s happening to her.”
“Can’t you address that?”
“I wish I could. I don’t know what that trigger is to help her work through it. Of course I’ll keep trying, but I need her to want to find it too.”
Internal trigger my ass.
“Morning beautiful,” the squatter in my bed murmurs. Rickly rolls onto his side and his long, tousled, blonde hair looks like something from a mousse commercial gone awry. I’ve been pestering him to cut it but he thinks it’s more rock and roll this way. “I’m bringing back the grunge look,” he’d joked while tugging at my mid-length, brown and violet tresses. Only the tips are purple. Easier upkeep when you lack time to frequent the hairstylist.
I roll my eyes and crawl in beside him. It’s fairly uncomfortable to share these tiny, shoebox beds but I’m too tired to kick him out back to his own cramped van. Rickly is the lead singer for our first opening band, Sheltered. They only have a demo and are unsigned, so they don’t have many luxuries here on the road. I bet our label, Social Orphan Records, signs them by the end of the tour though. They’re amazing. The first time I saw Sheltered perform at a small venue back home, while our album production was finishing up, I knew I had to take them on tour with us. At first Samantha had resisted, but I can be relentless. After two weeks of alternating obstinacy and begging, she got the label to cave. They joined us on our second stop.
It has paid off for me in more ways than one. Not only are we getting awesome reviews for our performance, but for the whole tour as a package. The three bands we’ve assembled are killing it and the fans are coming in droves. It’s wild.
Also, Rickly and I are sort of involved. While we’ve never clearly defined our relationship, somewhere between the Oregon pines and Washington hipsters we stopped fooling around with lovesick fans or randoms at bars. That’s as good as any verbal commitment to be the “b” or “g” word.
As I shift around to get comfortable, Rickly flops his tattooed arm around me, and I quickly drift off to sleep.
I sit in a maroon, leather chair, in the rec room, bobbing my head as if I’m listening to music only I can hear. I have no desire to play with any of the dated games strewn about the room or attempt to do arts and crafts. The childlike pictures some of the other ‘inmates,’ as I like to call them, have drawn make my younger sister’s scribbles when she was a kid look like Picasso.
I yawn, and scratch at my wrist. What the hell am I doing here? How did my life fall apart so fast? A nagging voice in the back of my head tells me it’s not too late to salvage but I squash that optimistic bitch with a glance out the window at the fenced yard. There’s no escaping this hell as long as he’s still out there, ready to finish the complete and utter liquefying of my mind.