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  • Writer's pictureJessika Brust

Happy Easter, Part II

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

"Things are better now." :-)

Click here to read Part I.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Could one accurately use the term 'wake up' if one never fully fell asleep? My alarm sounded, and while I biologically needed eight more hours, I had no time for snooze. In a daze, I shuffled myself to the kitchen to brew coffee, when I remembered the events of the night before -- and rushed outside.

The light beside our front door -- where an unknown male assailant tried to claim he was law enforcement while pounding the door with violent, aggressive urgency a few hours earlier -- had been carefully dismantled. The cap had been screwed off and placed precisely beneath the light fixture, right side up so it couldn't roll and make noise. The lightbulb had been removed, and after some searching I found it tossed to the ground just off the side of the porch. There's no way police would've tampered with my ability to see who was knocking at the door -- I'm glad I didn't fall for his scheme but irritated I hadn't called 9-1-1. I remembered his rampage across the front wall of the house, and found the screen had been punched out of my roommate's window.

But I had no further time for investigation. I called my boyfriend Owen for comfort, and told him I was sorry he wasn't able to come with me to the gig tonight, I would miss him but was looking forward to celebrating Easter Sunday with him and his family tomorrow. His response to my story was typical -- he became audibly tense, no doubt wondering how he could've ended up with a girlfriend who'd manage to land herself in dangerous situations, like people attempting forced entry to her home while she was there alone; a girlfriend who lived with two male roommates; a girlfriend who'd continue to work for a band that had hired someone she'd had a fling with to replace the bass player. Owen was remarkably unsympathetic, mildly judgmental, and not at all comforted by my desire to bring him along, or my excitement to join his family for holiday celebrations. Typical.

No time to be disappointed, however -- only time to curl my hair and head to rehearsal for The Music Man, with the North Carolina Symphony.

Showing up to this gig as anything less than rested and ready was exactly what I had been avoiding. I arrived ten minutes prior to our 10am start time, and paced myself. I couldn't blow my vocal chords out now -- I'd never get through tonight's gig, and wouldn't recover before opening night with the symphony. Any vocalist will tell you that singing hard on a sleep deficit is one of the worst things you can do to your instrument. Yet I had to stay alert. The young actress playing my daughter sensed in her child's intuition that I needed support, and we spent our downtime cuddled on a chaise lounge by the window, reviewing our lyrics.

Lunch break. I rushed home, inhaled a snack, changed into night club clothes, loaded my car with gear, decided I needed another pot of coffee, and applied stage makeup.

I sprinted back to the afternoon's rehearsal -- and walked in barely recognizable to the way I'd looked that morning. Everyone gawked. My stage makeup has that effect on people -- and I suppose that's the point of it, when you're getting ready to front a band in a nightclub. But in this scenario, it felt inappropriate. I wasn't there to show off, intimidate, or be a sex symbol. I wanted to be a professional and effective performer in an ensemble setting. I explained my situation to some, kept my gaze low, and that wonderful cast accepted it with open arms and loving support. Thank God.

When it was over, I rushed to the parking lot and dodged my way around traffic to head to my next job, which was a four hour drive east to an oceanfront club. I put The Music Man soundtrack on to review my parts, and resigned myself to a long, flat drive, away from the setting sun. My lead guitarist, Sean, gave me a ring soon after I began driving.

In his guttural, sarcastic, alcoholic prankster droll, I heard, "Hey homie, where are you? The rest of us are one hour away, you know sound check is at 8pm, right?"

"Sean, I told Mitch -- I got out of rehearsal at 6, and the earliest I can be there is 10, so you'll have to leave me two open channels and line check me right before we start." I had raised my voice at him almost immediately -- who has time for this crap?

"Woah homie, why are you so testy?"

Don't make me angry, don't make me shout. I've had the world's longest workday of all time, and I had to get through it after not sleeping all night in a panic, from someone trying to break into my house. Did Sean even deserve an explanation?

The phone rang again, and this time it was our bass player Bryan: Sean's childhood best friend, and our band's newest hire. The current state of that cover band was complete disorganization, as we had just fired our frontman for vague reasons and now were unclear if our drummer Mitch was actually in charge. With all this turmoil, the only person in this band who could be trusted and had my back, was Bryan. And of course, that made rumors fly, and upset our respective significant others.

Bryan laughed at Sean's nagging, sympathized with my story, and said, "Let's just do a good gig tonight. Drive safe, see you soon."

I had less than an hour to go, when Mitch called me, slurring his words and mildly upset that I hadn't arrived yet.

"Well, it's so difficult for me when you take other gigs, because what am I supposed to do with bookings and scheduling? It's disrespectful, it's not being a good bandmate," he complained. "And now you're late, making us look bad."

Reality check -- he expected me to turn down a symphony gig for a cover band gig? I am a classically trained vocalist, and you think I'm going to be satisfied singing covers for the rest of my life? Don't you see that if I work with the symphony it elevates the status of the entire band? I hung up, pursed my lips, and pressed on. It was only 9pm -- I wasn't late per the time I told him I'd be there.

Arriving was a whirlwind -- Bryan and Sean came out to help me unload and find a parking spot. My gear was shuffled in, and I was the last one inside, carrying my fiddle....

Where were the speakers? There was the stage, there were everybody's amps, and the drum kit...the sound board was there...where was the sound guy? Oh joy, our former bass player was there, rehired as a rhythm guitarist -- and there was his insecure, miserable girlfriend hanging off the corner of the stage.

Someone unmuted the lines I plugged into, and a high pitched, sirenous screech filled the room and pierced everyone's ears, reverberating off the wooden walls and concrete floor. The DJ stopped his spinning, the bartenders paused their pouring, and all eyes turned to the stage.

Oh, there the speakers are -- those itty bitty JCL boxes perched on a pole. Oh, and there's the sound guy, getting yelled at by the manager for not bringing a full sound system for a five piece rock band to play in a room of this size. This bodes well...

"Bryan -- who hired this sound guy?!" I asked.

"Sean did -- he was trying to step up to help Mitch, and hired an old friend of his, who clearly knows nothing about sound."

Downbeat. We didn't have time to smooth out technical errors, we were already breaching contract by starting late, trying to build a sound system out of nothing. Those of us on stage couldn't discern our own sound from all the high pitched wails of the JCL's. The audience couldn't hear over the splitting pain reflecting off the walls. The band didn't know what to listen for to stay together, and behind me, all I could hear was a non-rhythmic Thunk, plunk, CRASH! coming from the drum kit. What was he doing back there -- juggling sneakers with the floor tom?

Mitch's eyes were wide and glazed over, and there was drool poking out the corner of his mouth, dangling over his chin herpes. His tongue twitched under his lip from side to side, as he spastically pelted the drums in no pattern whatsoever, while staring fixated into space. This was the same guy who had told me that I was the one making the band look bad, less than two hours ago.

I looked at Sean. He was blissfully strumming away with his amp louder than hell, with a drunk smile on his face. I looked at our rhythm guitarist, Shane. He was shaking his head at the floor while his girlfriend Fiona scowled. I looked at Bryan, who exchanged a significant glance with me, then turned up the volume on his bass amp -- he was the only one who was going to keep us together. Alone, he'd have to provide rhythmic structure and keep us all playing in the same key, while fighting the noise of the faulty speakers and the catastrophe happening on the drum throne.

Thus ended the first song.

Bryan leaned over. "Mitch decided he was going to snort a few lines, since his wife didn't come along tonight."

I took another look at Mitch. He was sweating profusely, and saw me staring at him and gave me what might've been intended as a reassuring grin. Behind him was a substantial collection of empty beer bottles, with the one he was currently nursing close to his left hand. Drinking on cocaine.

"Did he light up too?" I asked.

"They all did. As usual." Bryan shrugged.

"What time did everyone start drinking?"

"Before we even got here."

I couldn't believe the contrasts one day could hold -- in the morning, I was singing high A's, doing high kicks, creating comedic bits with our devilishly handsome leading man, and holding the hands of children who needed help staying focused during the highly efficient, drama-free symphony rehearsal. Come sundown, I'm on stage with a sound man who doesn't own a sound system, two dudes who smoked enough pot to wander into the hills, a pharmaceutically enhanced drummer who ran the risk of OD-ing, and a former fling of mine who'd gladly take any benefits if I were to offer them. At least this time he was stoically remaining platonic to save the day, so maybe the two of us could save face.

The first set ended. As we filed off the stage towards the restroom, Bryan came up behind me and gave me a hug. He could be predatory and pushy towards me, and in the 18 months that I'd known him, I'd learned to swat him away, and he'd contritely come back and apologize, and all friendship would be restored. But this time he was being genuine and sweet -- and he knew I was exhausted.

"I drove four hours in a rush to come here for this," I said into his neck.

"I know. And these guys can't even play well when they're sober. The only people in this room who have any talent are currently in this embrace," he said, with his signature womanizing smile.

He always pushed the envelope, just a little, and it always got me and I couldn't help but laugh. As we stood there comforting each other, Fiona glared at us in judgmental disdain. She was frenemies with Bryan's girlfriend, after all. Bryan was smiling, presumably happy that I hadn't swatted him off. I headed towards the bathroom, and started to reevaluate the rest of my night.

I had arranged to split a hotel room with Sean and Mitch. I had volunteered to sleep on the floor, because I didn't want any surprise bandmates jumping under my covers in the middle of the night. I packed some blankets and a body pillow to set up my nest. But Sean was crunk out of his mind, only vaguely aware of the urgency of the situation, and Mitch was so far gone I wasn't sure why he was still conscious.

The club owner was yelling at Mitch by this time. He was furious, and rightfully so. The DJ was flitting about, trying to rewire his subwoofers into our sound system, to attempt to balance our playing in this room. Graciously, the owner allowed us one more chance to rectify the situation.

Where in the first set, I was stunned by embarrassment to the point where I could barely function; in the second set, I decided that if we were going to go down, I wasn't going to let my reputation go down with them. I was going to slay this crowd, and Bryan was behind me, ready with support.

And that's exactly what we did -- I owned that audience like a gladiator. Mitch's drumming never caught up to where we were, and Sean's guitar kept getting louder and more out of tune. Shane managed to keep up, and the sound guy managed to at least make my microphone loud enough so the audience could hear me talk.

Yet for all my effort, go down we did. The manager said, "Thanks, no thanks" and had us leave with half pay, two hours before we were contracted to be done. Half pay was rather generous of him -- only a quarter of it was needed to cover the cost of gas.

I was mortified, beyond belief. And I was so exhausted that I turned fiery and militant. What was I going to do? There was no way I would share the hotel room with Sean and Mitch after that -- I was so insulted by their conduct I couldn't even look at them. Shane and Fiona had gotten a hotel room of their own, but Fiona despised me. I couldn't even hang out with them. I couldn't afford a hotel room by myself, either. And Bryan hadn't gotten one. But drive four hours home, on no sleep, after a day like that? Was that safe?

I'd never packed up gear so quickly. Bryan passed me in the doorway, and asked what my plans were. I looked blankly at him, because honestly I didn't know. Suggest to split a hotel room with him somewhere? Absolutely out of the question. But drive home? Not safe. But I was so wired with anger that I wasn't even remotely sleepy and I knew I'd have to let out some steam.

"My favorite club is 40 minutes down the road, at my favorite beach. I'm not sticking around here. You're welcome to join me if you want." At least if Bryan were with me, I knew I'd be safe.

Bryan accepted the invite and went to make sure Sean was ok -- they were childhood besties, after all -- and found him locked in a bathroom stall having a meltdown.

"Never mind, I can't get him out." Bryan hustled back to the car. "Let's go. You should drive since you haven't been drinking."

It was a tense commute as we raced the clock to the Emerald Club, and arrived ten minutes before last call. Heavy with the stress of our failed gig, we decided to make every second of those ten minutes count. Bryan was always a gentleman who paid for everything, especially since I drove, and he immediately ordered us two shots and two beers, a piece.

Now, I am not a heavy drinker. I have been known to down a bottle of wine in cases of severe depression, but otherwise I max out before I finish two beverages. Oh well -- I can't think of any better situation to drink myself into oblivion. After these past 24 hours? Bottoms up.

Bryan, on the other hand, was capable of drinking like a fish. His shots were gone and he was down to the dregs of his first beer before I'd even gulped my second shot. Last call was sounded, and E-Club's band was done playing. Bartenders began urging people to leave, but we lingered as long as possible. I had an in with the manager, as he remembered my playing from when I worked with another band, so he was happy to let us stick around and talk future bookings.

I'd finished two and a half drinks, and needed to go to the restroom. When I came out, the club was entirely empty, and I wandered until I found Bryan in the courtyard. By then he was intoxicated, as indicated when his eyes take on a crooked, off-kilter gaze. He swayed a little as he stood, but it seemed like his tension had eased.

"They told me to leave, they tried really hard to kick me out, but I told them you were my wife and they let me wait for you," he informed me, with an extra proud rendition of his womanizing smile.

I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. He was a notorious bachelor, who lived with his long-term girlfriend, who broke up with him periodically. It crushed him every time, but he just lumbered on, knowing she would always come back to him, no matter what he did. He didn't believe in marriage, he'd said. Why he tolerated that kind of behavior in his relationship was beyond me. He was extremely handsome, like a young George Clooney, but even more masculine and brutish, like an ancient Roman army general leading his troops into battle. But above and beyond his thick hair, sharp eyes, and naughty grin, he housed a fierce intellect with a lightning fast tongue. He could've had any woman he'd asked for, yet he seemed to not think highly enough of himself to seriously pursue anyone; he merely chose to wait for the girl who'd written about him in her high school diary, to return.

"See? Look how big you smiled when I called you my wife!" Oh, his ridiculous, Leonine charm.

We cleaned out the bottoms of our bottles, and turned out to the streets. Now we were both trashed and completely incapable of driving. It was beginning to get chilly, so we set off to see if any of the nearby hotels had vacancies. We began talking -- of our crazy mutual acquaintances, why the band was dissolving, ideas for future musical projects...and found that none of the hotels were open. We kept wandering. I had to relieve myself behind a dumpster after all that drinking, and Bryan tried to sneak a peak to irritate me. We laughed and joked, and kept walking, when suddenly my phone went off.

It was Fiona, texting: "Hi Jessika I'm sorry to disturb you. No judgment, but are you with Bryan? I don't have his number, I really need to speak with him, it's an emergency." How strange, coming from a woman who had declared me her arch enemy, unfriended me on FaceBook, and stopped speaking to me for six months even though I saw her almost every weekend, while I had no idea I was no longer considered her friend.

We called her right back: Fiona and Shane had been arrested for a DUI, had done all the things an attorney would advise you against doing when dealing with the police, and were now spending the night in jail. Bryan was a lawyer (he actually IS my lawyer -- read about that here), and a damn effective one at that. Fiona needed his counsel, and how interesting that she withheld judgment on the bizarre friendship between Bryan and myself in her time of desperate need. Luckily for her, I'm not a vindictive person. Oh, the karma that came her way!

Bryan and I got a good chuckle -- half of the band from our disaster gig was in an altered state, and the other half was spending the night in jail. Meanwhile the two of us, unlikely friends with unexplainable, blatant sexual tension, wandered the streets by the sea. By then we had moseyed to the fishing pier. Our relationship, from the moment we met up until that point in time, had been a turbulent ride, as we each struggled for dominance and were reluctant to trust each other; but the time we spent under the fishing lights solidified our friendship for life.

We talked of college and our earliest gigs, our love/hate relationship with music theatre, Bryan's wild days as a frat boy, and heartache within his family. He shared stories of crazy sexual encounters and wild trips during lavish house parties -- stories he had never once shared with his girlfriend. She would feel too threatened by them. Bryan's not so much proud of these stories as he is entertained by them. They are part of what makes him such a captivating, multi-faceted character -- something my Aquarian brain never gets tired of analyzing.

He snapped a picture of me beside that pier, when I wasn't totally paying attention, and texted it to a mutual friend of ours -- a former bandmate, an impeccable guitar player, and a bro who respected the strange relationship between Bryan and myself. Bryan had been texting him gig updates all night, so our friend knew what we had survived. The caption of that photo read, "Things are better now."

The temperature dropped, and we began to sober up. No hotels were open, we were certain of that by now. But we were still not safe to drive. We decided to get the blankets out of my car and set up camp on the sand. We carried everything we could, and rolled ourselves up like burritos, 30 or so yards away from the surf.

The temperature kept dropping, and we inched closer to each other for warmth. We were able to get comfortable after much adjusting -- until he moved in to kiss me.

"No, Bryan." I diverted him; he had to go and ruin our beautiful night by pushing the limits.

"What? You mean you're seriously going to lay here with me on a beach, under the stars, and not kiss me?"

"We're both in relationships, Bryan. With other people."

"So? They'd never have to know."

"But I'd know. And I couldn't live with myself."

He changed the subject, then tried again later. Classic drunk Bryan. And then he tried again once more! I'm proud to say my answers remained consistent.

"You mean to tell me that you won't regret not kissing me, after the time we spent together tonight?" he pried.

I paused, because I honestly couldn't say I didn't want to kiss him. Something about our connection allowed us to plunge to the very depths of intimacy with mere intellect; which, as I was slowly coming to realize, was something my current boyfriend would never be capable of. But still, a commitment is a commitment.

"I couldn't do that to Owen."

Locked in our eternal battle of should-we-shouldn't-we, I fell asleep with my head in the sand under his arm, with my neck wrenched to divert my face from his lips. Once asleep, the sound of the ocean waves lulled us into dreams.

Click here for Part III.

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