by Brenda Gayle
All around is chaos. Four months on the road, you’d think they’d have gotten it down by now. But they never do. That’s not the way of it. Someone forgot to get coffee for the lampy, perched way up in the ceiling, and there’ll be hell to pay when he gets down. The wrong guitar has been brought out: no, the Gibson not the Fender! Obscenities echo off the walls of the cavernous hallway that leads from the arena’s loading dock to the stage entrance. Air rustles as bodies scurry past.
In the distance, a low hum from a thousand conversations; words simply a blur of white noise against a backdrop of distorted canned music. Every time a roadie appears on stage to tune a guitar or to adjust a mic the crowd roars in expectation. Is it time?
No, not yet. Keep them waiting just a little longer.
And that’s part of the anticipation, too: letting the yearning build until it’s almost too much; until the crowd is vibrating from it; until I feel drunk from it.
“How much longer?”
I open my eyes and look at the girl with long blonde hair, flowing fuchsia blouse, and zebra tights frowning at me. The present collides with the past in a resounding thud that leaves me unbalanced. I am bewildered by the sight of my daughter in this place.
My hesitation deepens the furrow between her eyebrows; the crevasse is a perpetual reminder of her disappointment…in me…in the world…in anything that doesn’t live up to her fourteen-year-old expectations. I’d tell her to be careful, that when she gets older she’ll regret those lines on her beautiful face, but it wouldn’t do any good.
A few feet away, Kevin, her older brother—skinny jeans and white tee-shirt—is snapping pictures with his iPhone even though we’ve been told photos aren’t allowed. It’s my job to make him stop, but tonight I’m reluctant to assume my maternal role.
“Do you think he’ll be much longer?” Emily repeats, twirling the backstage pass that hangs on a lanyard around her neck.
Teenagers! They don’t understand anticipation.
He is Derrick Boone. He is one of the hottest singers on the charts today. Do they say “hot” anymore? Probably not. Sic, maybe? I can’t wrap my head around that one.
I’m also having difficulty wrapping my head around the changes in Derrick; the way he’s reinvented himself and reinvigorated his career, so now every boy wants to be him and every girl wants to…I think of Emily…date him. Christ, he’s my age. No, actually he’s a year older—he failed a grade, which is how we ended up in the same high school vocal class.
“Shouldn’t be,” I reply, although I’m not convinced we’ve been kept waiting long enough.
With an exaggerated huff of impatience, she stalks away and leans against a concrete pillar. Out comes the cell phone. Hair veils her face and I can’t see her expression, but I’ve no doubt she’s texting her displeasure to her BFF.
I thought it was a joke when, a few months ago, Kevin told me he was listening to the new Derrick Boone track. Perhaps his father had put him up to it; a tweak at my vanity, I supposed. I had recently been named principal soloist for our community choir and may have been just a little too boastful about it.
But why shouldn’t I be proud? As far as I was concerned the recognition was long overdue. After all, I had, at one time, been a popular singer; been on the verge of stardom, or so proclaimed the music rags of the day.
Back then, Derrick wasn’t happy about the attention I was getting. We were supposed to be a duo. I tried to be fair, make sure the songs I wrote showcased our talents equally. More and more, though, it was difficult to write music for a strong male voice. I’d married and had kids. There wasn’t room in my life for a Derrick.
I should have been upset when I heard his sexed-up version of one of my songs—I’d assigned him the rights to my music in an attempt to assuage my guilt after I quit the business—but I wasn’t. What upset me was the refusal of Emily and Kevin to believe I had written the song, and that Derrick and I had once been an act. Even with their father backing me up, all I got was eye-rolling and “sure, Mom.”
I glance at my children, so absorbed in their own worlds. I know they don’t see me. They never ask about my past, my dreams. I didn’t exist until they were born.
Like the snap of a whip, the tension peaks and Derrick is sauntering along the corridor toward us. Emily straightens, one hand nervously rakes the hair from her face, and she pulls at the hem of her blouse. Kevin quickly pockets his cell phone and then tries to figure out what to do with his hands; they’re too big to slip into the pockets of his too-tight jeans so he opts to hang his thumbs off the belt loops.
Derrick stops to talk to my children and I wonder if he remembers them as babies. I never think I’ve aged until I look at them and realize how much time has passed. He’s being charming, and both Emily and Kevin are grinning. Kevin pulls out his cell phone and takes a selfie of the three of them. I’d like to be in that photo, but I don’t want to spoil their moment.
Derrick turns to me and his smile falters. He doesn’t want to admit he knows me. Bastard!
I step toward him, determined to make him acknowledge our past, to prove to my children that I was once like Derrick Boone: admired, idolized even—someone other than just their chauffeur, their cook, their ATM.
The fear in his eyes makes me pause. What am I missing? Why should he feel threatened? He’s the one with the power. He’s the one who can convince Emily and Kevin that I was once somebody special; Derrick and I, together, riding the music charts almost to the very top.
And then I remember the song. His breakout hit is really mine.
He licks his lips nervously, waiting. I study his face, too smooth for a man his age, and I can tell he’s had plastic surgery.
Anger drains, replaced by the dead weight of sadness for what is now his life. Of course Derrick’s afraid. All he has is a song that’s not his own, a face that’s not his own, and a precarious career that hinges on his ability to top his most recent performance.
Already I can see Emily’s eyes glazing over in boredom and Kevin shifting from foot to foot, itching to move on to something new. The excitement of meeting Derrick has passed; by morning he’ll be nothing more than an Instagram moment, and in a year they won’t even remember him.
But they’ll never forget me.
While I may be only a liner note to Derrick Boone’s career, I am in each and every note of the musical score that is Emily and Kevin’s life. And maybe, in time, they will see beyond the mother to the woman with a past, a present, and a future. The anticipation of that is exhilarating; more intoxicating than the lure of the audience ever was.
“Knock ’em dead,” I say.
Derrick’s relief, so obvious and so brief, is both tragic and comic. As he swaggers toward the screaming fans who are his just for tonight, I turn and walk to my children. Mine for tonight and forever.