Chapters 6-11

Chapter 6

After Christmas, AJ hit me with a bender. Neither of us saw it was coming.

He was moving after the New Year. His mother got a job in Illinois.

It had to be a nightmare. Just . . . couldn’t be real.

I believed that any second I was going to wake and the two of us would be back to our normal routine of nesting at the baseball field.

That atonement never came.

A clout of surreal anguish hit me, echoing like a buzz in my ears. My thoughts were catatonic, void of any cognitive dispensation.

My future hung in the balance – soon to be resolved to ash.

The freedom from my frost bitten spirit came when AJ arrived in my life – I was liberated in a way I had never known. My emotional damage was on hiatus from feeding all of my neuroses. AJ offered me a release from the darkness. But that miasma of dejection loomed over my shoulders once again.

AJ and I spent as much time together as possible before the impending leave. So distraught by this bombshell all we did with our remained time was hide, clinging onto every second, as though our lives depended on it.

Tragically, mine did.

AJ managed to sneak his mother’s car the weekend before he left. It was his seventeenth birthday. We had sex one final time. I cried.

When he left on the third of January, 1986, I thought I was going to die.

The sickening pain of goodbye came after school. We snuck behind the auditorium stage after class. The reclusive atmosphere that we sought was meant to conceal our feelings from those that would never understand our need for each other.

Both of our sorrow drenched bodies were curled in a protective embrace. The only sprig of light that cut through the densely shadowed backstage came from the hallway angled to our right. Glowing yellow striations touched our faces with faint lamination, just enough to offer a sense of our presence.

Neither of us knew the exact words to offer. Clearly the imminent emotional separation of our hearts was a new source of pain for both of us. For the preceding four months, AJ and I lived vicariously through the salvation that we’d conjured for one another, holding onto the hope that the protective bubble surrounding our fragile existence would never burst at the seams.

Our world was soon to crumble though. We were utterly lost to ourselves.

AJ’s eyes were fastened to mine. “Yari, please don’t forget me,” his tone was pleading. “I promise I’ll write you all the time.”

The warmth of my crimson cheeks sizzled with the streaking of brazen tears.

There was so much that I wanted to say to him - so many confessions: who I was; my past; my troubled thoughts . . . the full extent of my dreams. There needed to be someone in existence that was aware of the complexities of me.

I couldn’t formulate the exact language of my words though, of my thoughts.

“AJ, you’ll never truly know how much you mean to me.” My lips pursed to suppress a budding sob. I was hardly able to control my motor-skills amidst the pain.

“I know.” AJ consoled, kissing my temple.

His reassuring arm tightened the small of my back, grasping me closer to him. Burying my face into his chest I cried. The scent of baby powder soon calmed my pain. The comforting aroma would forever remind me of him.

We parted ways indefinitely that day.

I immediately fell into such a despondent slump, rarely leaving my bedroom.

AJ and I wrote back and forth for a couple of months. But then without warning he stopped. I prayed that it was something trivial, like his mother making him move again and that he would start writing when he settled.

He didn’t. And I never found out why.

When AJ left, I found myself alone again. After turning sixteen, the end of his departing month of January, I really felt the restrictive straitjacket of loneliness snap around me.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that at sixteen. There always seemed to be this whimsical understanding by teenaged girls that once you reached this milestone, you would have a driver’s license, a steady boyfriend, and a social life. Sixteen was when a teen unofficially became an adult.

None of that happened for me.

Quickly I fell back into my pit of despair. The powers that be made a singular effort it seemed, to bring my world back down to where I had only my books and my music.

How I hated my life.

I felt as if I were shoveling shit against the tide. It all just kept coming back, no matter how hard I pushed for the paralyzing turmoil to go away.

I had been plagued by that emptiness for so long, but when AJ showed, the pressure that bore down upon me - manifested by this void - had been lifted, forcing the dark emotions away.

I wondered if maybe I clung to him too quickly.

AJ made it so easy though.

So many times before we met, I would lie awake at night praying for amnesty from my presipous of abandonment - this separation caused by the ruthless acts of those gating me into a claustrophobic enclosure. I cried countless tears, believing that my life would consist only of me and my suffering. I relinquished my heart to my companion journal until my knuckles were stiff from the tense clutches of my pen, repeatedly pressing against the uniformed lines dividing the paper, hoping this loyal practice would prove my worth for happiness.

For months after he left, I fluttered back into the despondent lull of my formidable self. I wrote some of the darkest music I had ever comprised. One in particular stood out from the rest.

You trapped my soul

Wanted more than I could give

Your breath on my brow,

Empty words,

It’s how you lived.

I never needed your captive arms

If only I could escape your reformatory embrace

Oh, your bewitching charms,

Never knew passion could lace

The seams of my heart

To the deception of your face

The love you promised,

Were you thinking of me

When you said never lie

It was all fabricated symmetry.

You didn’t warn

Of your flattering heart

Such a disgrace

Should’ve confessed

Your sins and your lies in the first place

I wanted to believe that when AJ stopped writing me it was because he somehow lost my address. But it was almost certainly another girl who diverted his feelings from me. He promised that he’d never forget me. Instead, it seemed he had forgotten me - in less than two months’ time. I realized then that the feelings I had for AJ were not reciprocated. His emotional hold on me was not as strong as mine was for him. And because of this betrayal toward me, this song titled “Deception,” was my way of being cleaned of his deceit.

In actuality, I didn’t want to know the truth behind me and AJ’s broken heartstring. It was easier to heal with the fuel of hate than with sorrow. This acclimation was a survival tool, much like when my mother died. I blamed her not only because she took the razors to her wrists, but I also held her accountable for the consequences of her actions. She could’ve sought help for the sake of her children. That alone was enough for me to possess animosity toward her - a resentment that would never fade. I would later convince myself that my mother never existed.

It was this motherless, Immaculate Conception that I regarded as my stork-ride into the world. I had no parents, and AJ was dead to me too.

Maybe it wasn’t the divine mind of a god that imagined me, but rather a devil. That would make more sense – the spawn of Satan. Only creatures as cruel as the evil doers downstairs would torture me with a brief window of happiness, only to then slam the happy-pane shut, as I attempted to climb through for a share of the justifiable joy that waits on the other side.

If not them then could it be that nothing happens for a reason? Things just, happen? Cause and effect, and nothing more – no detours for a possible turn around. Life is what it is - Shit.

Was there no influence by fate? Is the world solely governed by nature’s laws?

Whether a devil devises the rules, or it’s merely the science of our actions generating reactions, should I just take a backseat and give in to whatever comes my way? Do nothing?

Again, there was that lance in my side – the powerlessness - the non-power that leaves me like a fish out of water.

Fate, the devil, God, nature, whatever – I was sure they’d only force me backward


I can see why people give up on life - life gives up on us.

It’s said that life isn’t going to be easy, but it will be worth it. My response to that is, when will it be worth it? In the end – when I’m dead?

It felt like I was impervious to anything good. Only shitty things were allowed to cross my path.

My anger escalated to a new level of scary after the desertion of AJ. And my trust was nil. I devised a new rampart of defense, against guys, altogether - protection for my emotions, forging a safe zone between me and them and their dubious ways, becoming more conscious of opening up to anyone that promised their heart to me. I realized that no one should become that vulnerable.

I learned my lesson. So I thought.

When the weather turned bearable after spring’s arrival, I wandered aimlessly at the baseball field. Void. My thoughts empty. I hated to even let my eyes haze over the spots that AJ and I frequented. I was punishing myself for being so naive, believing for one moment that I was normal.

Spring of ‘86, I was pacing the chain-linked fence that framed Jaffrey Field. The night before I dreamt of addled words to a song, feeling a walk might help in capturing a tune to move the process along.

My attention was diverted slightly though. A lanky guy, alone, playing guitar in the bleachers caught in my peripheral sight. He was humming while casually caressing the strings beneath his fingers.

I was fixated on his rhythm.

With eyes closed, the six-string continued to strum heedlessly, as he practiced a ballad. I stared curiously several feet away.

His long, chestnut hair fluttered lightly in the breeze over his perfect olive complexion. Not a flaw could be found amidst the strong facial features. He had a long, thin, chiseled face with high cheek bones, and a deep-set dimpled chin.

I moved in close enough to hear the melody, keeping an inconspicuous amount of space between us. My face remained parallel to him while keeping his music within earshot. He was on key, sounding acquainted with the guitar.

After several minutes of my lingering curiosity, the amateur musician caught a glimpse of my presence near the lower bench of the bleachers.

I stole a quick peek then looked away, faking a nose itch. He smiled curiously in my direction, while resting the guitar by his side. He placed his elbows on his thighs then leaned forward with crossed hands.

“Either you like my song, or you’re in love with me?” He chuckled with an innocent flirtation.

Embarrassed that he noticed my staring, I put my head down and turned a dark shade of crimson. He rose from his seat and scooted down closer to where I stood.

A few paces into my departure, I hesitated a glance in his direction. His bold greeting was something of a shock to me.

“I’ve seen you here before,” he said. “What do they call you?”

His rootbeer-brown eyes waited for a response.

I forced myself to turn the full extent of my body in his direction. Still I was silent.

He was persistent though.

Wavy long hair hung past his shoulders, wild and trendy, complimenting his casual attire of ripped-knee jeans and Judas Priest concert t-shirt. Regardless of how much effort I put into trying to not offer him any interest, I couldn’t deny his appealing good looks. There was something uncanny about him that surpassed adolescent, budding hormones. His soothing voice and caring air caught me off guard. The hair-band look that he adorned contradicted the seemingly warm nature that felt evident.

He laughed at my silent reprieve. Surprised, too, at my behavior, having never been the shy type, I tried to formulate a coherent thought. But I was at a loss for words.

“Cat got your tongue?” he teased.

“No.” I managed. My voice was stale.

“No, you’re not in love with me?” The cutey forged a wounded frown.

I caved and offered a faint smile.

He looked at me as if he could read into my soul.

“So, you can talk, then?” he beamed. “That’s a relief. I thought I was gonna have to coax it out of you.”

I quickly replied with a prudent laugh, not wanting him to think I was childish.

“Um, you play the guitar pretty good.” I said, feeling comfortable enough to finally speak freely.


“I’ve actually always wanted to play myself.”

His face li. He moved closer to me. I stood along the lowest tier facing him.

“Are you into rock music?” He ran his fingers through the long tassels framing his face.

“Of course,” I snorted with a derisive tone.

His eyes flickered from my assertive right turn.

“My name’s Brad. What’s yours?”

I pulled back a chunk of hair that fell into my eyes. I hated my long wavy hair and made a swift attempt to fix myself. Being plain and tomboyish, my efforts were in vain – there was no hope for me. Compared to Brad’s beauty, I looked like a wet mop.

He waved a charming, crooked smile. “Well, should I just call you beautiful, then?”

I forced a haughty laugh. A guy as attractive as this specimen, calling me beautiful, had to be a wise ass.

“Yari.” I looked into his eyes unyielding, waiting for him to make fun.

There had to be a flaw within his ostensible perfection. Probably was a sarcastic jerk. My unusual name almost always took people off-guard. In school, because I wasn’t the typical Jessica, Sara or Heather, my name often received strange looks. I was named after my grandmother on my mother’s side. She was Brazilian. She died when I was too young to know her. But I cherished the name out of respect.

Brad leaned in closer to see if he heard me correct. “Yari, is it?”

I turned defensive. Apparently he was no different. “Yeah, why?”

“Chill, feisty one - I like your name. It’s cool.” A broad smile filled his face. He looked me over impressed by my quick defenses.

“How old are you?” Brad relinquished an undecided brow lift.

“Sixteen.” I was terse, untrusting.

“Really? Wow - you don’t look it. I thought you were at least eighteen.”

I was kicking myself for not lying and telling him I was older. Now he’s going to treat me like a baby. “How old are you?” I countered.

“How old do you think I am?” Not once did he drop the amiable smirk.

He was clearly older than me. Not by much though - there was still collagen around his mouth and eyes. I then became suspicious of this age inquest. Was he sizing me up for something?

“Nineteen?” Playing along, I was hoping to be right out of pride.

“You’re better at judging people than me.” A slight snort trickled his throat. “So, tell me, what rock bands do you like?”

The uncanny comfort level that was attempting to be reached between us was largely due to Brad’s polite determination. His strange eagerness to know me seemed to inevitably pose a problem with my obstruction of will. But, would my weakness of loneliness become my Achilles Heel?

He seemed like a flirt, but not a perverted stalker-type. There was a gentleness that emanated from him, like a brother.

We talked for a while. He told me of his rock band called The Rangers, and how their style was similar to Aerosmith. Naturally, I was intrigued, and asked if I could hear him play. He invited me to come by his garage where they rehearsed.

I don’t know what possessed me to do it – boredom, desperation, or just plain curiosity, but I took him up on the offer.

A week later I stopped by his place.

The one-car garage-door was open. Coincidently, I timed my visit perfectly with him setting up for rehearsal.

“Hey, Yari,” Brad called from behind a double-stacked speaker display. “I was wondering if you were gonna swing by.”

I smiled awkwardly, standing before the curious eyes of his band members.

“Guys,” Brad called their attention to him. “This is Yari. We met last week at the park. She’s a bit of a music guru. I invited her to hang with us so we could get some feedback.”

The three surly teens mumbled half-interested hellos then continued with their instrument setups.

“We’re just about ready for a jam session.” Brad said, gesturing toward the corner of the cluttered garage. “Cop a squat on that stool over there and hang out.”

Brad was certainly the better looking of the four guys. His manicured appearance was refined with a clean shaven face and tamed hair. The others looked like they just stumbled out of bed by the looks of their snarly mane and unkempt clothes. The drummer brandished a hangover look; the bassist resembled that of an emaciated Ozzy Osborne, and the guitarist appeared to be so completely bored with his mindless prodding of a frayed string on his jeans.

I didn’t foresee any descent music coming from this motley crew. But I was polite. I looked on with interest.

When Brad finally got his discombobulated friends organized in their rightful places, and focused on his mission, they managed to break a tune - if you want to call it that.

The lazy guitarist kept falling out of sync with the bassist, and Brad was tripping up on his lyrics.

“Craig,” Brad faced the bassist. “You’ve gotta come in strong in the intro. Benny, you’re introduced when the base goes to tempo. Come on, you guys are killing me here.” He shook his head in earnest.

My attention was primarily on Brad’s contribution to the band. He had a great voice; it was strong – holding the highs and lows with solid form. I was impressed.

They rocked out a jam called “Easy Rider.” It was pretty lame, and painful to listen to. The lyrics were, I think, about a guy whose life was focused around a motorcycle, or maybe it was a horse, or maybe a woman? They were far from Aerosmith, more like Loverboy meets The Three Stoogers.

“So, what did you think?” Brad asked, eager for my input when they finished.

The rest of the band showed barely any interest in my presence.

My eyes pulsed wide with pained directness to his gaze. I didn’t want to be the one to break the bad news since no one else had offered the painful truth already. I wasn’t sure which direction to go: The safe, polite, you’re great; or, the constructive criticism route, some more practice would really help. Why did he even care what I thought?

Damn it.

“Uh,” I stalled. “You want to know what I think?” playing surprised.

The truth was all I had. Lying wasn’t a virtue of mine. He wouldn’t like my honesty though - I was sure of that.

My molars were grinding. I was hoping he’d forget the question if I delayed.

No go – his attention was locked on me.

Brad nodded, pushing for my response. I bit my tongue, careful with my delivery.

He took a few steps forward and picked up a battered kitchen chair. Rotating the back of it to face him, he set it down, straddled the seat then rested his forearms on the back. Still he anticipated something to roll off of my tongue.

My butt was sore from being pressed against the rock-hard surface of the stool for the last half an hour. I shifted from cheek to cheek, allowing the blood to flow back. It was more of a nervous teetering than a circulation booster.

“Well,” my eyes shot cautiously over the desolate faces of the three other band members. “I didn’t get a sense of the Aerosmith influence that you mentioned at the park.”

One of the band members snickered. I didn’t catch who it was though. Brad did, and peered over his shoulder to glower at Craig.

“Yeah, we’re working on that.” Brad said. “What did you think of the lyrics?”

I fidgeted again in the backless chair. It was becoming apparent that they didn’t get much for feedback from anyone. What did they just play for fun?

“They were in need of . . . depth.” I said then scratched my forehead as a diversion from any possible elaboration.

He chuckled at my recovery.

“I know.” Brad chortled. “I guess I’ve just been in denial.”

The rest of the band lost interest in mine and Brad’s assessment of the music, and strolled off to congregate at a refrigerator in the back of the garage. Beers materialized in their hands soon after. Clearly, Brad was the passion in the band.

I spat a laugh to keep things light. “You shouldn’t care what I think anyway. Create your music for you.”

“No, you’re right. We need practice.”

I didn’t offer any further insight into my suggestion. Frankly, I liked their sound. As sloppy as the clumsy noise was, it was also oddly appealing.

I soon found myself attracted to the asylum of the garage, and its remedial relief: Brad plus music, equals escape for me.

Chapter 7

My visits to Brad’s garage began as casual once-a-week drop-ins, graduating to weekend hang-outs, and within a month, transformed into daily digressions.

Brad and I hit it off in record time. We connected through music. Music was our lives, and literally, all we talked about. Almost certainly it was through this noteworthy connection that made him want to see me more.

He was in a way, like having the brother I would never find in Eli, and the friend that I’d always wanted.

The rest of the band warmed up to me soon after.

Brad brought forth my lively side through his determined methods of breaking down my guard, which in turn, boosted my self-esteem, resulting in me becoming more outgoing. This emerging voice was what brought the guys to fall for my gutsy wit. They were also amazed by my vast music knowledge, calling me the song librarian. Yeah, I was well versed in the ways of music.

Hanging around them was exactly what I needed. The abstinent cloud of mistrust still descended upon me though. I guess it was who I was. The blemish just couldn’t be erased.

The guys gave me a kind of “club moniker,” too - accepting me as one of their own with the nickname Simmy - short for my last name Simone. I eagerly took on the role as a sort of assistant to the guys - helping clean up after practices while offering my opinion on their songs.

We had such great conversations and debates about music. Often we argued about who was the greatest rock singer, or what band gave birth to rock ‘n roll. They always poked fun at my choice of rock groups when it came time for our weekly battle of the bands. I would argue that musicians like Neil Young and Boston had a greater chance at making The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame than Motley Crue or Ratt. Brad hardly ever agreed with me. His taste in rock music was painfully mainstream, where I leaned more toward the classics.

Immediately after school I was at Brad’s place. I loved it. I was like one of the guys. They became like family, especially Brad. So I didn’t think much of telling him that I loved to sing. Our budding friendship was so non-intimidating. Not like with AJ, where there was risk of our relationship being compromised - at least, in my mind - if he knew what I was really like. With Brad though, I felt like I could offer a little of myself without judgment. And because of this burgeoning freedom, I would soon become his musical apprentice.

Up until that point I was a self-taught singer. Brad thought I was good, but helped diversify my sound. If it was anyone else who tried to improve anything about me, I’d send them straight to hell. But, I knew Brad’s intensions were genuinely sincere, so I accepted the instruction.

“Simmy, singing is your niche. I could help you perfect your craft.” He never made me feel self-conscious.

Once a week he gave me singing lessons to help expand my range and pitch. During this extension of my voice, he also taught me how to play the guitar, even giving me one of his banged-up six-strings he’d had since he was a kid. And Al, the keyboardist, showed me the fundamentals of playing a piano. I caught on quick.

I enjoyed singing with Brad. He had an amazing voice, pitching a high note like David Lee Roth and bringing it down like Robert Plant. I think it was The Rangers’ music that held him back. All the songs were crap, and they couldn’t keep a band together worth shit. They filtered through two bassists and one lead guitarist, while I knew them. It was unfortunate that they couldn’t compromise and agree on songs - they all had talent. There were always creative differences – and personal differences, too.

I’ll never forget the one huge blow-out between Brad and Craig. It started with them fighting over the title of their latest song. Then it turned into a battle over a chic.

Brad was a charmer. He loved women and it didn’t matter if she was taken either. Being a ladies man got him into trouble with the guys in the band on more than one occasion.

The girl in question during this particular confrontation was Jasmine Tucker. She was a local band groupie that looked like Farrah Fawcett. She was, in a nut shell, the town tramp.

At the time Jasmine was dating Craig. She hung out with the band a lot. I didn’t like her; she disrupted the band’s concentration with her split-sided daisy dukes, and braless white tanks. I hated the way Brad always goggled over her. It was pathetic. She was a walking citation that begged for attention from guys and girls alike.

Brad was finishing up his eighth beer one night and feeling pretty good. Craig and Benny went out for more to drink. This left scandalous opportunity for Brad to hit on Jasmine. By the time Craig got back, Brad and the tramp were practically doing it on the couch in the back of the garage.

All hell broke loose.

Craig went after Brad with fists flailing. All the while, I’m wondering why nothing’s being said to Jasmine, who provoked it in the first place with her panty-less summer dress. The skank actually bent over in front of Brad showing off her beaver. Of course he was gonna get aroused. So knowing this, I stormed up to the slut and punched her in the face.

“You fucking whore, it’s your fault!” I screamed, wild with rage.

I think I took out all of my pent-up fury on Jasmine that day. She was the perfect target. I blamed her for everything. My thoughts were rampant, and Jasmine was going to pay for my shitty childhood.

The first blow I drew blood. I’m not sure if it was the sight of the sticky red stuff, or my infuriated state that excited me. But I kept throwing punches. The second knuckle went for the nose. I heard a pop. I knew I had broken it. Her screaming escalated and she fell to the floor.

I had no idea that I had it in me to kick ass. It felt awesome.

“You bitch!” she yelled through sobs, clutching her nose.

“What did you call me, tramp?”

I swung back my leg and starting kicking her in the abdomen, as she lay on her side. I was out of control, calling her every insult imaginable through repeated kicks. I was like Gloria meets The Exorcist, kicking ass while possessed by hell’s fury.

At that point Brad had taken Craig down, too. Immediately after, he saw the damage I was inflicting on Miss Do-Me-Dukes-A-Lot. At first he was in shock, not thinking I was capable of such violence, soon though he rushed over to contain me.

“Simmy, Simmy!” He grabbed my waist, pulling me away from the curled up, blubbering mess on the floor that Jasmine had become.

“Sim, that’s enough,” he said so calm it forced me to a halt. “You kicked her ass for me, didn’t you?” he asked through a breaking smirk.

“She was acting like a hooker the whole time.” I rubbed my sore hand as I spoke. Looking back at Jasmine - who had managed to pull herself off of the floor.

I immediately started cursing at her like Scarface incarnate. “Go whore-around somewhere else, you fucking bitch! Take your fucking loser boyfriend and get the fuck out of here. Bitch!” It was poetry in profanity . . . my finest work.

I was so pissed that Jasmine and Craig had attacked Brad like some Bonny and Clyde criminal exploit that I was ready to rock-out with the punches again - even though Brad was guilty of debauchery in the first degree. In my line of sight, Brad was one of the most charismatic and selfless people I ever met – his flaws were inadvertently overlooked by me.

After that night of “the boxing match of the century,” as it would become known, the remaining guys, especially Brad, had a renewed sense of respect for me. I was no longer the little girl who tagged along with the band. I was one of them – worthy of the bad-ass branding. Which interpreted as: I was even more white-trash than I was initially led to believe.

The guys were a good time, for the most part. Music and that garage brought us together. It was our place of worship - Our Lady of the Devils.

I even got to know Brad’s mother, Nora. She was a single mom who loved to smoke pot. Ironically, she was an RN. She worked a ridiculous amount of hours, leaving ample opportunity for Brad and his gang to come and go as we pleased.

We rocked the garage during the day, and hung-out in Brad’s backyard in front of a fire pit at night, drinking and smoking joints. Occasionally a new girlfriend would stumble into the picture, but they never lasted. Brad never brought chics around.

Very few of these girlfriends were cool. For the most part they were annoying Maybelline-plastered dolls. Brad found humor in my irritation with them – I would mimic their pigeonholed mannerisms behind them, or roll my eyes when they tried to be cool and fit in. I loved that I was the beloved female of the club.

After hanging-out with the Rangers for four months, I felt confident enough to be open with the band - mainly Brad - and share my singing and writing skills. It was time to take the fledgling to flight.

We were lounging in Brad’s finished basement one rainy afternoon when I sprung it on them.

“Hey, guys.” It was surprisingly harder to approach them than I anticipated.

Brad and his closing-band members, Bud, Adam, Al and Simon all turned to face me.

“Umm…” my voice trailed. I diverted my gaze to my tapping right foot. “I was hoping you’d be up for listening to my song.” My eyes quavered from their stunned faces to a random fixture then back to them.

“S-sure,” Brad staggered, exacerbated by my willingness to be so exposed.

He heard me sing many times. My songs were sacred though. I kept them guarded. He knew this. Even he hadn’t heard any of them yet. I think he was in shock over my humility.

The others nodded in dumbfounded agreement with Brad.

The first ballad I ever wrote and put into music was titled “Hopeless.” It was basically a narrative of my life. I sang it to the band that night on acoustic. It had a blues influence, and my strong alto was perfect for the rhythm.

“Born into a dark world,

Pain consumes my soul.

All I ask for,

All I desire

Is for my family to know

Stop with the merciless blows,

My bones are bound to break.

Will it all end if I were to die?

I suffer the sins of my mother,

And the lust in my father’s eyes

Hopeless is the wonderer,

Aimlessly abound.

Will I ever know?

Will it never be found?

I wish for hope in my life,

To keep me from the knife

Hopeless I feel,

I want to live the night.

My brother knows no truth,

To him I’m a monster in the dark

I wish to be loved,

But my future is blinded

All I see is a bleak destiny.

Will I always be . . . hopeless . . . in . . . me.”

Upon finishing, no one said a word.

Their usual intrepid faces stared back at me with sympathy. At first I thought the guys hated the song and that their grave expressions were that of dislike. But rather than read the tea leaves to grasp the obvious, I sought an underlining revelation within deploring reactions. I soon realized that they had become enlightened to the truth behind why a young girl would desire so much to hang with a no-name band, comprised of a ménage of misfits - to escape my home life.

Brad was the first to speak.

“Damn, Sim.” He looked at me with a devoted sincerity that I still keep locked in my heart for those days when I feel like my life is collapsing in on me.

With my reluctance to be sentimental, my response was circumspect. “Well,” I said in length. “Was my singing all right? How about the guitar, was I in tune?”

The guys looked upon my indifference to speak further on the sensitive subject with disbelief. They knew that I was tough as nails. They didn’t expect a complete shut out though.

I wasn’t ready to let down my guard entirely.

Simon broke the uncomfortable silence with clapping. The others quickly joined in, adding whistles to the applause.

The following weeks Brad and I became even closer. Our friendship was bittersweet, possessing a sibling-like quality. He turned into a big brother, watching out for me always. And with a fierce determination he maneuvered his way through my emotional blockade.

“Sim,” Brad confronted me one night in front of his backyard fire-pit. “I’ve been meaning to talk to ya.”

“Yeah?” Clueless as to where this was going, my focus remained on the rippling flames.

“I’ve been thinking about your song, and the things you’ve been through. And well, I, uh,” he looked away, awkward, “just wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

I embraced his veracity. “It’s not your fault.” I snorted. “Don’t feel sorry for me. It won’t be like this much longer. When I graduate, I’m outta this shit-hole town. I’m gonna move away and do something with music. I don’t ever want to see that pathetic excuse for a family again after I’m gone.”

“I don’t blame you.” Brad reached his arm around my shoulders, giving me a quick squeeze. The subtle display of affection meant oceans.

Brad was rethinking his situation, too. Inexplicably, my music had become his inspiration to turn to management.

After an ugly break-up with The Rangers that summer, Brad vamped the idea of taking on the role as my personal promoter. There was no question in my mind that he could perform this task. It was more a matter of how. But at sixteen, I was willing to sample anything to give my life meaning.

Brad suggested not waiting for high school graduation to split from Shelby. He believed that I had a talent that should be unleashed to the world. He convinced me with his larger-than-life talk that we had to go to New York City - where the big record companies lived, and where the best contacts could be made in the music business.

I was down with that plan. If he believed we could do it - then we could do it.

So Brad sold his half-rotted ’73 Pinto to pay for the bus fare. I wasted no time snatching up my guitar, a few garments, and my last twenty bucks. Leaving a note for Marty and Josephine saying that I was leaving for good, I set my sites for the Big Apple with my would-be manager by my side.

I kissed that wasteland town goodbye, and never looked back.

Chapter 8

The day I arrived in New York City will be forever engrained in my memory. My first thought being, my life will never be the same, was the understatement of the century.

The summer was coming to an end. It was August. The sun showed absolutely no mercy as it reflected off the paved city. The humidity wrapped its smothering clutches around my chest. But the weather didn’t put a damper on my spirit. Everything from the smoking manhole covers to the chaotic horns blaring, felt like home to me. Over the years I’d read so much about the seediness and the congestion. But I didn’t really get it until then.

Gawking at the pedestrians as they blazed by - oblivious to what was unfolding around them, focusing only on their destinations - fascinated me. The traffic was insane with yellow, taxi-cabs bumper-to-bumper, blearing their horns. All this madness was hedged by an enclave of skyscrapers. It was one of the most emphatic and psychotic landscapes I had ever seen.

Our uprooting was in essence ludicrous. Brad and I had a hundred dollars between the two of us, no place to sleep, and a whimsical hope of breaking into the music business. He had no experience as a manager or promoter, and I was a young dreamer. We were doomed.

That night we stayed at a flee-bitten motel near Grand Central. It was all we could afford. His brilliant plan for the next day was for me to go to Grand Central and sing, while he looked for a job. It seemed like a good idea to me at the time. I certainly didn’t have a problem entertaining the masses, while strangers tossed a coin or two into my guitar case. In my opinion, Brad was the one getting the shit end of the stick. After all, he had to dredge within the sweltering heat to look for a mindless job.

I wasn’t worried though. I trusted Brad. He was witty, charming, and knew how to handle any situation. He never made me feel like I had anything to worry about. I believed that if anyone could make me famous it would be Brad.

I was so naive.

Brad got a job as a bartender a block from our motel. And I wasn’t doing too shabby on the tips at Grand Central. I felt like we were going to be okay. And we were, for the first year anyway. Things were slow moving, but we were having fun.

Six months after our arrival, Brad was able to contact a nameless studio and make arrangements for me to cut a demo at a makeshift set-up in a guy’s basement. His name was Frank, and like us, he wanted to make it in the music biz, only, as a producer.

Frank was narcissistic and obnoxious. This stereotypical Italian New Yorker was loud and arrogant. All he talked about was himself and his “vast” experience in the business - like I cared. Even if he knew a guy, I decided that I’d rather panhandle for a living than work with that blow-hard.

“So, Simmy, is that your real name?” Frank asked in his Italiano accent.

“No, it’s Yari Simone.”

“Really . . . well, if you make it kid, use your real name. It sounds better.” He looked at Brad then clapped his hands together. “Alright, let’s get started.”

Pretentious Prick.

Brad looked on like a proud father. I knew he wanted my success more than anything.

After half an hour of setting up I was finally on my way. For the next hour I sang

“Enchanted lady,

Eyes of envy,

She dreams of a brighter day.

Her frail limbs,

Memories of a distant place,

All she can do is pray.

Enchanted mind,

Salvation waits,

Along the brick road of hope

Deliverance will come

Kneel down to the faith

Before the day is done

Enchanted place,

She seeks your peace.

For all that she fears,

The demons she sees.

Blood on her lips,

From the struggles endured.

The death of love,

Oh, enchanted – she mourns.

Pursue the yellow path, I hear him say,

Take hold of her scarred wrist,

Creator, lead the way.”

By the time I finally finished the grueling demo, I hated that song. I sang it a hundred different ways until Frank and Brad finally agreed on one. I wanted to rip their heads off – the excessive tediousness irritated me. I had little input on the final cut, which pissed me off even more. Who the fuck was Frank? He had no bearing on my career. But I was so damn tired and spent – I just wanted to leave.

“Wow,” Frank gasped, shaking his head in disbelief. “If Pat Benatar and Jim Morrison had a baby girl, she’d have your voice.” “Give me a week to edit and make copies for ya, and you’ll be on your way to stardom.”

“How do you feel, Yari?” Brad chuckled, repeating Frank’s address to me when we left the studio.

“I don’t know . . . fine, I guess.” My annoyance was fizzling. “How did you hear about Frank, anyway?”

“I’ve been asking around at the bar. A couple people brought up his name. He was cheap, so I went with him. It doesn’t matter who records your voice as long as it gets done. With a recording we have something to finally work with.”

Brad then rambled onto a less noteworthy subject. That was so him, sort of adolescent the way his mind changed gears.

“I can see why he chose to work behind the scenes in this business,” Brad snorted. “He’s certainly no looker.”

I was too preoccupied with my thoughts to mull over Brad’s observation. I was trying to recover from my first music demo. My voice was sore, my head like mush. He was going on about something to do with an ugly tree. I was half-listening.

“What?” he asked, opposing my silence, thinking it an objection to his rude comments. “Come on Sim - did you see that coffee cake?”

Momentarily distracted by my obsessive performance-scrutinizing, I considered Frank’s appearance for a second. He was a man of average height, probably in his early forties, but his island recession and thinning black hair made him look closer to fifty. A small pot belly, skinny legs, acne scarred face, incessant verbal diarrhea, Brad was right, Frank wasn’t much to look at, or listen to.

I laughed quickly to appease him then returned to my thoughts of music.

Nervously adjusting the guitar-strap on my shoulder, I veered the conversation back to business. “What’s the next step with after demo?”

“When we get the copies, I’ll go to the record studios and radio stations around town – ya know, refuse to take no for an answer.”

Because of this asinine plan of attack, I had to bail Brad out of jail a couple times. Apparently, he was literal in his approach. It was comical at the time.

Things were quiet for a few months with no responses to the demo. There was minimal interest in my public performances, too. Brad was going out a lot with his newfound girlfriend, Andrea, who he met at the bar where he worked. Their quasi-relationship left me alone often in our perilous apartment on the lower eastside. I didn’t like her. She partied too hard, and introduced Brad to pill-popping, eventually luring him away from our dream.

Approaching my seventeenth birthday, January of ‘87, I received the best gift I could’ve imagined. I was offered a singing gig at a small rock-bar not far from the apartment. The owner, Victor Harding, got hold of one of my demos and liked what he heard.

Victor was a smooth guy, all business. His appearance reminded me of Sonny Bono – short stature, thick mustache, and flashy clothes - with a raunchy sense of humor to boot. The club was called Cobra. It was a dive and the patrons were questionable – a house of ill repute. But I certainly wasn’t particular about where I performed, considering my previous venues - Grand Central and the subway.

Victor paid me to perform for one night. He said that if the crowd liked my music then I could return for more gigs.

Hair bands were big on the charts at the time. My style was edgier, untapped. Being a female, I knew the audience was going to be harsh, too. And, this was my first stage performance. I was batting a thousand.

My choking nerves were restricting my senses that night. It was unlike me to be so intolerant. I needed to get a grip on the significance of this opportunity, and the exposure it could bring. I didn’t want to blow it.

Nevertheless, my heart continued to race like a psychotic drummer on roids. My mouth was as dry as Tina Turner’s over-processed hair. And the palms of my hands were clammy like Frank’s face. I was a train-wreck.

Standing before a floor-length mirror in the grimy, mock dressing-room, I brutally scrutinized my appearance. Victor said I couldn’t go on stage without a look that made me exude sex - fucking pig. I had the unsavory suspicion that the Bono-clone was expecting me to dry-hump a poll.

I had the body for stripping, but not the shamelessness. At five-foot seven, my height made me look lean. Unfortunately, my breasts didn’t shrink with my length. They were a whopping C-cup. Being somewhat of a tomboy, these awkward swells got in my way sometimes. An exotic dancer would have loved to flash my shit. I on the other hand, was pretty conservative when it came to offering up my goods. Brad agreed with Victor on the wardrobe downgrade, as I saw it. My so-called best-friend was present when choosing my attire. I cursed him for three days for making me buy slutty garments. Right before he left me at the dressing-room, I called him a worthless mother-fucker for his pornographic taste in women’s clothing. He never broke stride with his proud smile.

So there I was in my egregious catastrophe - a black, leotard cat-suit, tagged with a half-sized, denim jacket. I varnished the ghastly look with dark eye-makeup and teased hair.

I looked twenty-five.

I looked like a tramp.

“Simmy, you look terrible. What’s going on?” Brad barged into the room without knocking, taking heed of my anxiety. I was moping in that pitiful space the size of a closet.

“Don’t you knock?!” I lashed.

He laughed and stood before me, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I know you better than you do, Sim? What’s going on?”

I hesitated. “Uh . . . I uh, I’m scared.” I said in a small, mortified voice.

He was laughing at my expense. This made me feel even worse.

“Stop it, you fucker. I’m dying here.” I pulled away from his grip then looked back at my vulgar image in the mirror. My face was that of nausea.

“Sim, you have stage fright - it’s normal. You’re gonna be great.” He flashed me that amiable smile that beat me into submission every time. “Just don’t make eye contact with anyone in the audience. Find a vacant spot to focus on when you’re nervous. Look at it this way - you’re better off singing here than at the harem theatres of Time Square.”

“Your words of infinite wisdom aren’t helping.”

Victor rushed into the room. “You’re on in fifteen,” then rushed back out.

“Brad - help!” my anxiety ridden voice screeched with agony. I looked to him for guidance that was more than just disobliging words.

His face turned serious. Brad motioned for me to sit. Kneeling beside me, he offered the best help he could comprise. Reaching into his pant pocket, Brad pulled out a few small pills.

“What are those?” I snapped with adverse caution.

“Sim, they’ll take the edge off. It’ll be like . . . you’re taking a shot of whisky.” With his hand cupped, he offered me two yellow pills.

I looked at them, hesitating. Drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, I didn’t have a problem with. I’d been partaking in those sedatives since I was fifteen. But street drugs, they didn’t agree with me much. I tried Quaaludes once. They gave me a wicked migraine. And with acid, the long-term damaging effects outweighed the super psychedelic high.

Brad detected my disinclination to take the daunting pills.

“Simmy, do you trust me?” he asked with an honest face, eyes frowning.

Of course I trusted him - it was the pills I didn’t trust. But I didn’t think he’d offer me anything lethal.

Victor stormed in again, “You’re on in five. Meet me near the stage in two minutes!”

Looking back at Brad and then to the pills, I was in no state to entertain. I had no choice. Fuck it!

I grabbed the mystery drugs, and quickly slugged them down before I reconsidered my hasty decision.

Brad rushed me to the dressing-room door. “They work fast, so let’s go.”

I felt like a robot. It was as if I had left my body and no longer had physical control. Frightened was an understatement. The room spun. My surroundings were obscured with indiscernible images of dark and bright shadows swirling into oblivion.

I’m gonna die from fear. I don’t think it’s ever been documented as a means for death, but there’s a first for everything.

I wanted the drugs to consume my senses, to eliminate my anxiety. Hurry, God damn it! Kick in!

Nearing the stage, an explosion suddenly erupted inside of me. It was as if I had stepped into a warm pool of invisible comfort. A calming sensation engulfed my entire being. A sharp clarity kicked on in my consciousness. Brad noticed.

“Knock ‘em dead,” he said with a big toothy grin.

Victor walked onto the stage to announce me. The audience appeared restless, but it didn’t faze me. Those pills were a miracle. Walking toward the mic, I felt completely at ease.

The bar was dark and smoky. A few people clapped during my approach, others looked on with disinterest. The stage was small. The band I’d been practicing with for a week, provided to me by Victor, were as ready as they could be on such short notice.

I chose to start with “Black Rain.” I figured if any of my songs was going to get the crowd’s attention, it would be this one. A blues/rock number about a scorned-woman man-hater, felt appropriate for this stoic audience. I sang it like nobody’s business.

“Whispers of loneliness,

Secrets can’t be found

Shame and fear drip from my skin,

Cries of terror all around

Black rain drowns the house,

Hate rakes my face,

The mistrust that he spills,

Woman, know your place

The witching hour is upon me,

Never will I trust,

For all he has done.

The selfish ways, the lust

Black rain of tears flood my hands,

How I wish to be free,

Will it come to pass?

Forever it will be.

I plot revenge,

He’ll pay for his ways

Justice, my sisters, from the black rain

I stole his breath.

His life is still

My chains are broken for I have made the kill.”

The audience went berserk, especially the women. Apparently, they could relate to the lyrics.

On the stage for an hour, loving every minute of it, hoping that it would never end, I sang a few more of my songs then wove in a couple Janis Joplin jams. After the last bout of applause, there was no longer a doubt in my mind - I was meant to do this.

After that epic night, I started to make a name for myself at Cobra. I mastered the art of small-time dive-bar entertainment.

I even had fans. After a gig one night, I met the most unexpected admirer. His name was Eric, and he attended Juilliard.

The most intriguing quality that my male fan possessed, aside from the fact that he was being taught to become an orchestrated violinist at a prestigious performing arts school, Eric had a deep passion for rock. You wouldn’t think it by his upper-crust persona.

There was a genuine wholesomeness about this guy who grew up in Paris, London, and New York City. I felt like my mere presence was tainting him.

His parents were known orchestra musicians/composers who traveled the world, touring and performing in all the famous theatres. Apparently he was from a long line of professional symphony players, so naturally it was expected of him to follow suit. It was an expectation that he did not carry well.

Because his future had been set for him since birth, Eric had a tendency to be rebellious. His defiance was subtle in comparison to what I’d been capable of. In a pristine, high-class family, the things he did were frowned upon with tremendous discontent.

I had a three-week fling with this defiant closet-rocker.

“Yari, I am so envious of you.” Eric had confessed to me with humility. We were having a drink one night after my show.

“Why? – You’re the one who has everything?” I glanced over his posh attire. “Your parents are rich and they give you a good life.”

Eric stood out from the rest of the Cobra patrons like a thoroughbred among donkeys. He always wore perfectly pressed corduroys with an oxford. If I was passing him on the street I wouldn’t have given Eric a second glance - he was too clean-cut for my liking. He was, however, devilishly handsome. He reminded me of a young Paul Newman. Yet, he didn’t quite possess the seductive appeal that the striking actor oozed. That was mainly due to Eric’s slight insecurity.

“You have your music though - the music that you love.” The lowly mood of his voice was oddly attractive. “There’s nothing that I wouldn’t give to be in your band.”

“You’re too gifted for this shit, and too good for the lifestyle. Trust me it’s not for you.” I diverted my vitiated gaze from him.

“I wish I had your creative freedom though.” His hazel-blue eyes flashed with conviction.

I picked up on the envy in his voice. It made me wonder what would make a rich kid like this want my life.

“What do you say we go for a ride along Central Park?” Eric seemed to be hiding his peculiar remark within this invite. I was no dummy. I sensed the streaming disappointment he felt toward his life. At Cobra I met all kinds.

Eric was very well off. His parents owned an apartment that overlooked Central Park West. They also owned a flat in downtown London. Being an only child, he had everything he could possible want at his disposal. It was surprising to see him so humble.

And he drove a Mercedes Benz. Fantasies of royalty filled my head when my body contoured with its tan leather seat. I felt like Queen for a Day when we cruised downtown Manhattan and Central Park. When I was with him, Yari Simone, the struggling poverty-stricken singer didn’t exist. He never made me feel inferior.

Brad didn’t know of Eric’s existence - he was too preoccupied with his own fantasy life to notice.

I didn’t perceive Eric as a love interest, but rather, someone to just hang with. I had a lot of free time, and he was available. The rich kid was very far from the type of guys I liked. Maybe it was the night that he played the violin for me underneath the Brooklyn Bridge that won me over though.

“Do you keep your violin with you at all times?” I asked, confused by the love affair with the unfamiliar instrument. “It’s always in your car.”

To me a violin seemed more as décor than something played. I had always found the instrument to be so beautifully crafted with its sensual curves and delicate strings, that it seemed almost too fragile to be touched.

He chuckled at my curiosity. “Not exactly, but it is in my clutches a good deal of the time.”

“Can I see it?”

Without a verbal confirmation, Eric leaned into the backseat and retrieved the oval holster, covered in black leather - even the container that held his prized instrument was impressive.

Resting the case on his lap, slightly angled in my direction for viewing, his attentive hands lifted the flaps that folded over the zipper. He then opened the top to reveal a petite golden-stained violin with a black neck accent and signature clef holes. The object resembled that of an antique heirloom that could only be found in the house of the matriarch to an affluent family.

Eric removed the delicate object from the case along with the bow. “Do you want to hear me play?” he offered with a tranquil confidence.

“I’d love to.” I perked up diligently, tickled that I was going to be personally serenaded with the eloquent sounds of a violin.

Without pause, Eric leaned the base of the beautifully carved devise under his chin, and shocked me into a hypnotic state of bliss.

He was magnificent – clearly he had been playing for most of his nineteen years. Captivated and awed, I listened intently to the medley that he called a sonata.

I never wanted him to stop the deeply poetic and emotionally inspiring melody. The fluttering, chirping, fluted, and vastly rich whimsical sound that he conjured from his fingers was magic to my ears – overture to a lullaby. What intrigued me the most, though, was the serenity that filled his face as he played. It was everything that I wished to achieve when singing my music.

When he finished, Eric had to break me from the seduction that the music had propelled me into.

“What did you think?” he asked mildly confident.

“Wow . . . amazing. You’re brilliant, Eric. And you say that you’re envious of me?”

He smirked. “You write your music though. I play composed music.”

Reaching behind my seat, he placed the violin back to its original spot on the floor.

“You played with real passion.”

He shrugged and offered no opposing comment. “Um . . . Yari,” he appeared suddenly conflicted with his thoughts, “I don’t normally play for anyone, and well, I just wanted you to know that I did so, because, I have feelings for you.” Eric kept his gaze upon me with such verdict, even though his words were somewhat jumpy.

Without thinking, without the slightest hint of evaluation into any feelings toward this half-stranger, I lunged at Eric, kissing him so hard that all he could do was respond with the same token. We then had sex in his car.

I’ll never understand what he saw in me. Maybe I was to him what a bad boy biker is to a stupid defiant girl - a yearning for the forbidden.

Our lives just never made any sense for the other.

Chapter 9

My band consisted of Drew, the lead guitarist, Tim on base, and a drummer who called himself Oz. They were older than me, in their late twenties. Brad made a point to let them know when we were introduced, that if any of them so much as looked at me sideways, he’d show-up in their bedrooms at night and slit their throats. It didn’t bother me that he went overboard with the big brother act. I knew he was just looking out for me.

Shacking-up with band members wasn’t exactly good for business. I wasn’t one for formalities though. So naturally, I did whatever the hell I wanted.

Tim was twenty-six, baby faced, sea-blue eyes and light brown hair. Every time he looked at me I wanted to rip off his clothes and screw his brains out. I had a thing for tall guys, and the fact that he was sort of shy was a huge turn on. Because a guy of Yari-liking had tugged at my sights – a rocker - it was time to give sideline-Eric the boot.

After some serious undercover flirting with Tim, he finally invited me back to his place one night after a show.

He lived in a small loft not too far from the club. His parents paid all his bills while he was “finding himself.” He grew up in the Hamptons, so the folks were loaded.

The apartment was descent - a single guy’s pad, casually unkempt. But not trashed. The warehouse-style brick walls were covered in framed rock-band posters, and his collection of bass guitars hung everywhere.

Soft spoken and alluring with his boyish charm, we sat and had a couple of drinks. It appeared that my age wasn’t an issue – he was under the impression that I was at least twenty. I didn’t feel the need to tell him otherwise.

We fooled around on the couch soon after. Then to my tickled pleasure, he picked me up and carried me over to his bed. My nerves were starting to relinquish their hold after the two, vodka soaked screwdrivers. The warmth of the alcohol saturated my limbs – it was a welcoming sabbatical.

On the bed I felt the heat quickly rush between my legs. At that point I was all his.

As introverted as he was, Tim was certainly the contrary in the bedroom. He took control. And I loved it.

He introduced me to the heavenly world of oral sex. I never gave AJ or Eric the opportunity to try - I was too impatient. But Tim was the star of this show. I laid back and enjoyed the ride.

His tongue was its own entity, finding crevices I didn’t know existed. Almost immediately the orgasm sprung. My scream was long and hard. The excited response to his perfect performance willed him to me without the need for me to reciprocate the scrumptious act. In a flash the condom was wrapping a luscious extension. Taking in the unexpected size of his large penis I nearly gasped. I wasn’t sure how to react to this startling revelation. I’d read in romance novels about how the hot and bothered women went wild for well-endowed men. Apparently, large dicks felt so much more pleasurable.

I lunged for him. Tim’s sultry lips grinned in acceptance of my aggressive invitation. He entered me with breathtaking force. Still numb between my legs from his earlier licking jaunt, an intense surge of hunger bliss came from the delicious pressure of his prick. Tim picked-up the tempo.

We resounded, loud and ferocious.

I morphed into an animal, gripping his ass, forcing him along.

Our wild lips devoured each other. There wasn’t a part of his face, neck or chest that got a reprieve from my tenacious biting, driving him mad. His impatient hands whipped me around cowgirl style. Accepting this new position without complaint, I massaged his manhood within me. He gripped my waist, supporting me along.

Those horny women in the smutty books were right. Bigger is definitely better.

Something was building in me. Something explosive. Faster I rotated my hips – Tim sensed the urgency. My hands balanced on his chest for support from my maniacal performance.

The merging of a furious tingle, gilded with the force of his throbbing penis, forced a scream from my throat that caused me to nearly pass out. I had no idea I could make such a primal sound.

My blaring discharge allured Tim’s desire to take advantage of my pause so that he, too, could reach an equivalent monster climax. Maneuvering his searing body to my back, Tim entered me from behind. A screeched moan pummeled my lips. There was no self-control left.

Saturated euphoria was the result of this cock-drilling.

Tim was gripping my backside. I relished in the mild pain. Thrusting his body into me with a burning urgency, a grown finally burst from his tortured mouth as he slowed to a halt. When finished he leaned over me to rest. I felt the heat from his staggered breaths on my shoulder.

Turning to face him with heavy gasps, we then knotted tongues.

I had no idea sex could be so fucking amazing.

Weeks later, Brad somehow found out that Tim and I were fucking around. We were rehearsing one night when Brad confronted him. Tim and I were pretty careful about keeping our escapades under wraps, so I don’t know who could’ve ratted on us.

“Hey, asshole,” Brad yelled from the club entrance, eyes blazing on the path to Tim.

I was oblivious to the fact that Brad even knew.

The band and bartenders in the atrium turned to the enraged Brad.

“Yeah you - pretty boy.” He pointed a livid finger at Tim.

It was then that I knew the jig was up. My guilty eyes went to the floor in front of me. I couldn’t face either of them.

“What?” I heard Tim say genuinely confused.

Still, I resisted looking up to see what was about to enfold.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you?” Brad exploded. “Didn’t I tell all you fuckers to stay away from Yari?” His veracious eyes bore into each band member, one at a time.

I reluctantly looked to my manager. The last thing I wanted was for him to hurt a sweet guy like Tim. “Brad,” I interjected.

He leered at me. I didn’t recognize him. Back to Tim, Brad was ascending the stairs of the stage, moving in closer.

Tim shot me a disengaged look, trying to play innocent. I rushed to Brad’s side to calm him. He gently pushed me aside as he reeled to contend with the confounded Tim.

“Did you take advantage of her, you piece of shit?” he spat, once facing Tim.

Helpless and desperate I stood before them, trying to break through Brad’s fury. It was hopeless. He was like a suicide bomber on a mission – a mission of death and destruction.

Tim kept diverting his penitent gaze from the floor to me then hastily he met Brad’s red-rimmed eyes and blazon face. It was clear that he didn’t want to fight Brad, but I sensed that he could hold his own if he was forced to.

“She’s only seventeen, scumbag.” Brad roared, pushing Tim.

Tim’s eyes flourished with shock. He turned to me reproachful.

Not able to confront Tim, I looked away – guilt engulfed my face.

Tim never asked me my age. And I didn’t think it necessary to offer it. Him perceiving me as an adult was precariously liberating. So I kept up the charade by playing along. Evidently that was a large mistake on my part.

“Yari,” Tim’s voice beckoned. He turned to face me.

The bystanders watched the dramatic display, staring, as anticipation filled their faces. I could tell they wanted to see a throw down. Brad was a street fighter forcing a dormant cockiness to shoot his mouth off when necessary. I only saw him fight that once with his old band mate Craig and Brad kicked his ass. He fought with dirty tactics, like waiting for their backs to turn, or taking groin shots. Of course, I didn’t want anyone to fight, so I tried my best to contain the tense atmosphere.

“Don’t speak to her!” Brad yelled to Tim, closing in on his face.

My attempts to talk were overpowered by Brad’s rage.

“Brad!” I screamed, pulling his arm toward me. He was stiff with vehemence, barely noticing that I was even present – even though his tirade was over me.

So I yelled louder. “BRAD!”

For an instant Brad gave me his attention. I jumped on it. Forcing my frail frame between Tim and Brad’s firm bodies, I addressed them.

“He didn’t know my age, Brad.” I pleaded then turned to face Tim’s disappointed face.

“He was still told to keep his fucking hands off.” Brad pushed me toward Tim with his chest.

“Brad, please?” I begged, pulling his face to mine with shaking hands.

Brad froze in place, gazing down at me.

“It was mutual. Don’t blame him. If anything, it was my fault because I wasn’t upfront about my age.” My frightened green eyes were enough to calm Brad. He looked at me aggrieved, like there was nothing left to live for. I dropped my hands immediately.

What was he thinking - that I was a whore? The last thing I wanted was for Brad to lose respect for me. I cherished the way he valued our friendship. I would rather die than hurt him.

His voice broke when he spoke. “You wanted to sleep with him?”

My best-friend’s betrayed face stabbed me hard in the chest. I looked away. Tears started to surface.

“Yes.” I muttered softly, looking at his trembling hands by his side.

Brad pulled his face down to mine without making eye contact and whispered, “Why?”

I was confused. Up until that point, I never imagined that Brad cared much about what guys I liked. But, it was at that very moment, when I understood undeniably that he loved me in a way that was more than just as a sister.

“Not here.” I whispered. This conversation was far too emotional and personal to discuss in front of everyone’s prying eyes, especially Tim’s.

Brad’s face tightened. He forced his agony into check. Giving Tim one final evil eye, he then stormed off.

My mind was anarchy. I wanted to cry, scream, and die in that order.

I faced Tim. “I’m sorry.” My voice cracked. I was too humiliated to say more.

“So am I.” Tim’s crushed voice stunned me. There was finality in his tone - I knew it was over with me, and with the band.

Victor, the club owner hastily replaced Tim that night with another bassist. “The show must go on.” When it came to money he didn’t fuck around with petty drama.

Relinquishing my emotions to mush, I had become a robot on stage that night. My mind was still languishing over everything that unraveled earlier that day. As much as I hated myself for not being honest with Tim, there didn’t seem to be any valid reason for me to feel guilty. Tim and I weren’t technically a couple, and there was no way for me to know that Brad had intimate feelings for me. He never led me to believe we were anything more than friends.

Was I so blinded by the friendship and security I needed in Brad that I overlooked his true feelings toward me?

From that night on, Brad avoided any mention of what took place, behaving like business as usual. This confused me even more, lending the belief that maybe I misinterpreted his feelings altogether.

I never heard from Tim again. I didn’t blame him for writing me off. Vanity would cause me to miss the sex though.

My thoughts were focused on Brad. I was worried about his masked emotions. The frustrating pattern of not being able to penetrate his blockade, with constant inquiries into his personality shift was becoming poignantly taxing for me. I couldn’t make sense of his detachment. I was left in the dark. Brad was naturally an upfront guy. This shut-out was blatant.

Why couldn’t he tell me that he was in love with me? Did I scar him so badly with Tim that he would never feel the same about me? How had he perceived me before finding out? Was I an innocent to him – some seraphic humanoid? How could he view me in such an unrealistic light?

It wasn’t fair.

Chapter 10

I focused all my attention on stage time to steer clear of the psychotic horse - that had become my mind - from charging into the burning stable. Brad had distanced himself all but completely from me, and the result of his desertion was too much reality for me to deal with.

Life at Cobra was prevailing – my gigs continued to attract people. And my new insight into derelict life at the expense of Cobra’s regulars was enough of a distraction.

The dark sense of reality that I was exposed to there was certainly not for the faint of heart. I didn’t realize it then, but being exposed to this consistent dumping of negativity was adding to my growing sense of misery.

The result of my loitering amongst the locals, lead to an alarming amount of confessions from them - they harbored many skeletons. My inability to turn people away opened me up to some disturbing stories.

There was one girl, Stella that I will never forget. Her mother died giving birth to her - talk about guilt. And her father molested her until she ran away at the age of twelve.

While living on the streets, she was forced to become a prostitute to survive. The unfortunate girl was beaten so badly by her pimp once that she fell into a coma for a week. At the age of seventeen, she went to rehab for a heroin addiction. When released, she set out to become a full-time rock groupie, following local heavy metal bands on the road.

I discovered quickly that people were really fucked up in New York City. And I was naïve in thinking that I was the only one whose father was a cold-hearted, perverted drunk; that I was the only one who had a verbally abusive, evil step-mother, and a family member off themselves.

Misery begets misery, apparently.

Three months after my initial performance at Cobra, and I was inexplicably still rocking out. Of course, nothing good lasts forever. Why should it, right? Well it didn’t for me.

Because of the attention that I was receiving, Victor turned paranoid about my barely-legal status getting blown. He feared the bar could be shut down. He said that I had to come back when I was eighteen.

“That’s a year away!” I exclaimed to him. “What the hell am I gonna do in the


“Not my problem.” Victor shrugged. “It sucks, I know – you were good for business.”

I was back at square one - singing in the subway and on street corners. Brad was too wrapped-up in the world of his drug-addict girlfriend to notice that I was going backwards. He was drinking, popping pills, and partying a lot. I barely saw him for weeks at a time. His escapades would land him at Andrea’s apartment for the night, or God knows where.

I confronted him on his managerial obligations, and he claimed that it was under control. Then I wouldn’t see him again for days. I started to worry. Rent was due, and I was alone more often than not. The last time I saw Brad, we had a huge blowout about his drug problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, Sim,” he said in his defense. “You’re just a kid.”

I knew it was the drugs talking. Brad never talked down to me.

“Brad, you’re letting that Andrea low-life ruin any chance that we have at making it in the business. Get off her twot, already!”

He turned to me with bloodshot eyes. “There goes Simmy, living in her dream world again. Face the facts. We are NEVER gonna be famous. Look around - this is it!” He became increasingly belligerent, and the sarcasm I couldn’t stomach.

“Maybe for you – you, junky loser. Not for me!” My legs rushed me out of the apartment. I slammed the door behind me.

Rage flared my nostrils. His words cut like a dull knife. I fought back tears, denying him the satisfaction.

I can’t live like this. This difficult realization wasn’t easy to come to grips with.

I walked aimlessly on the streets of New York, thinking of the appropriate action to take. I was angry and disappointed with Brad. And I didn’t want to go back.

Maybe coming to New York was a mistake.

Later that afternoon I coaxed my pigheadedness to steer for the apartment. My mind was set. I needed to tell Brad of my decision to move out. Unlocking the front door I entered the living-room; it was in complete disarray. Brad’s soiled clothes, along with dirty dishes were scattered everywhere. Empty beer bottles filled every flat surface.

“Brad?” I called out.

Not looking forward to the fight that was going to be the result of this split, I stepped cautiously forward. I froze.

Brad was lying on an odd angle on the floor behind the coffee-table. I dove quickly to his side, screaming his name.

He laid motionless, pale, devoid of life, looking up at me with a lifeless stare locked for eternity. His matted long hair still glistened with sweat - a sign that he had died recently.

My breath had become staggered and difficult. I felt an anxiety-attack coming. My pulse quickened rapidly, causing my heart to punch at my ribcage, ready to burst through. The air flowing to my brain had become restricted from my short hallow breaths. The room was closing in around me.

This had to be a nightmare. How could it be real? Not again. Please not again.

Brad was my family - the only friend that I had.

I stood over him frightened, hoping that it was just a joke.

The milky foam that dripped from his agape mouth told me differently, however.

Sobbing wildly, I kept shouting his name. There was no response - his eyes didn’t flicker. I screamed hoarse. Still no response.

I shook his shoulders and slapped his face . . . nothing.

Desperately looking around the small unkempt apartment, I found the culprit. Pills of every shape and color were scattered on the plywood coffee-table abutting an empty bottle of Jack Daniels. Brad OD’d on me.

A web of betrayal, anger and fear pervaded me. I no longer had a sense of who I was.

“You stupid fuck,” I spat, rising. “How could you do this?” Kicking an empty beer bottle across the room, I winced when it crashed against the refrigerator.

What happened to us? My mind managed to ask amidst the chaos. The one person who cared about my future, and was willing to go to the ends of the earth for me, neglected to care for himself.

With shaking hands and a heaving chest, I knelt beside Brad again and convulsed into sobs.

Could this really be happening? Was he actually dead? We’d been through so much together, had such dreams and aspirations. But he gave up so quickly.

My hands rested on his arm. It was cold.

“Brad,” was all I could bring myself to utter.

His beauty knew no bounds - gifted with a huge heart, and an uncanny ability for compassion. I would no longer have that in my life.

My insides were lacerated beyond healing. How could I let that party lifestyle destroy him? Maybe he wasn’t as strong as he led me to believe. I thought Brad was a warrior in this world of endless conflict. Maybe I was just a kid? Apparently that glimmer of hope that I thought I grasped in Brad, was merely a trick of light. The proverbial desire for good to prevail in a shitty world really didn’t exist.

My life is shit. Brad is dead…the world is dead.

I looked back at his empty face, and that’s when shock took over. My eyes locked on his, and everything around me faded to a blur. Images of my childhood turmoil flashed before me, reminding me of the similar shocking discovery of my mother.

I made a fruitless attempt at pulling myself together. Getting up from Brad’s lifeless body, I walked to the door. Tears streaked my face. I felt frozen where my nerve stricken legs stood.

Would I be able to leave Brad’s body, abandoned, discarded like waste?

My mind wouldn’t slow down even a fraction of a second for me to think clearly. My hands were shaking convulsively. Managing several deep inhales I struggled to control my breathing. Numb with grief and scared of my life beyond that door, I reflexively shot to my corner of the one-room apartment, grabbed my denim bag, and filled the oversized compartment with whatever was in eyeshot: A shirt, jeans, my journal, toothbrush, toothpaste, and my headset. I then found myself by the door. Balancing against the knob, I turned one last time to look at Brad before I walked out.

Discombobulated, I rushed for the payphone outside our apartment to call 911. I muttered indecipherable words in the hallway, falling down the last few steps, landing hard on my side.

Laying there helpless, I cursed God’s name. My thoughts were suicidal at best.

Stumbling to get up, I clutched my left leg from the raw pain. Struggling to the phone-booth, I leaned against the glass and contemplated the hardest decision I would ever make - leaving the apartment for good. I was a minor and the police would definitely send me back home. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Brad’s unclaimed body, but the thought of enduring my stepmother’s wrath again wasn’t a question for logic.

I’m running for it.

I made the call to the police then took off. Half-jogging down the street, my heart ached.

I have no one now that Brad is gone. What am I gonna do? I have no place to go.

Trying desperately to reframe from crying to avoid bringing attention to myself, I escaped the street. The cops would arrive any minute. I turned down an alley and hid beside a dumpster. The ambulance and police sirens were blaring down the street. An uncontrollable urge to see what was unfolding consumed me. I covered my ears and wished for it to end. After what felt like an eternity they finally left.

Beside the foul dumpster in the dismal alleyway, I cried until it was physically impossible to continue. My head was down in my lap as my body convulsed with grief. I was exhausted. I took on a fetal position and fell into a restless sleep.

My dreams were filled with faces of people I knew, laughing at me, mocking my pathetic existence. I was running down a darkened tunnel while being chased by my tormentors.

Halting abruptly, I looked to the angry image of Brad standing before me.

“How could you leave me like that, Simmy? I loved you. You betrayed me . . . you betrayed us all! You should never have been born.”

“No Brad, you don’t mean that.” I sobbed. “I’m sorry.”

All around me livid faces glared with hatred, loathing my existence. They started to chant, “Die, die, die . . .”

I screamed, forcing myself to awaken. I didn’t know where I was at first. It turned dark from nightfall and damp from an earlier rain.

Standing with a stiff leg, all I could do was keep moving. Guilt weighed heavy on my heart and despair on my soul. For weeks I slept on park benches and ate from garbage cans. I don’t know why I kept going but I did.

Living has never been my strong point. I was never any good at it.

There was a moment when I considered the possibility that Brad’s death might have been a suicide. If he did kill himself, was it my fault? I loved Brad more than anyone. If he took his life because of me, how could I forgive myself?

I lay on a bench one late afternoon looking up at the ancient sky, when a line from my favorite poem offered a chilling parity to my life.

The sky is a mirror,

Casting a reflection of the world -

Images of trickery and dreams blocked by an unseen force -

Conjuring mortal lives destined to partake in a theatrical disaster

Plagued by abuse, and death,

Whilst securing a cold cynical stare

Into my hopes and my dreams

Ripped apart by my darkened fate

Hopeless my heart

Broken my soul

The parallels between my circumstances and this morose poem were frightening.

Was this to be my fate? Broken? Forgotten?

Never did I imagine that life could be so thoroughly cruel.

Living on the streets had become vile. I had to constantly evade the vigorous attempts of pimps trying to recruit me, elude junkies scheming to rob me, and hide from homeless men sniffing around for a little action.

It was spring, but the nights were cold. I did grab a jacket out of instinct when I left the apartment, but it wasn’t always enough. I would sleep in public bathrooms on really cold nights.

One night, after a three week homeless stretch, under the watchful eyes of the laughing stars with no remorse or mercy, I fell into a deep depression. Death seemed like the only way out.

I felt so guilty about everything. I was sick of it all. I was being punished - chastised for leaving Brad, I knew it, doomed to follow a dreadful path to a certain lonely death.

Those agonizing weeks I roamed the cracked sidewalks of the ambiguous city during the day. My stomach ached constantly from hunger, and my eyes glazed from sleepless nights. Methods of suicide became an obsession. Hara-kiri was my favorite. I deserved a medieval means for death.

While rummaging through a restaurant dumpster one morning, I was hit full-throttle by my sordid reality. I couldn’t believe the runaway ne’er-do-well that I had become. Sitting amongst rotten leftovers I began to cry. I had reached the lowest point of my existence, locked in a vacancy.

Picking up a broken bottle, I brought it to my wrist. My hand shook as I applied pressure. I hated my life and couldn’t bear to suffer another day. But I couldn’t do it. Was it fear that stopped me? Or, was it my prudent alternate-self resisting? I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted God, or whatever it was that mapped out our fates to give me a fucking break.

I hesitated while small scratches from the sharp edge of the glass started to form on the pulsating veins beneath my wrist. And then, the altruistic component of my being stopped me. Maybe I was anchored by my guilt, or cowardliness.

Whatever it was, I threw the glass and climbed out of the trash. Standing physically numb, I cogitated. Ironically, what stopped me from committing this unforgivable sin was the memory of finding my dead mother. The dumpster struck a chord. My personal anger and shame steeping forever after stopped me from following in her footsteps.

I remember how it destroyed me when I became more aware of what exactly she did and why. When I recognized it as a selfish act, I promised to never be like her. This was an accord that I made with myself early on in my life.

The vivid memory of her death consumed me once out of the dumpster. I was only nine when it happened, but you don’t ever forget something like that. As I got older the details of what I saw became increasingly understood.

The horror of the act was frozen on her face. It was obvious Victoria was struggling with her decision. She lay in the crimson filled tub, one arm lolled off the side with its wrist turned up, exposing a deep laceration. The other arm floated by her side in the red water. My mother was fully dressed, submerged in the bath.

I forced my eyes closed and cupped my hands over my ears to block the screams that retched from my nine year-old mouth so many years ago. I still struggle with the truth. Could it have been just a dream? Did I even have a mother? Did my imagination create this fictional memory as an explanation of my motherless existence?

“Ugh,” I yelled in agony as I crumbled to the pavement in the ally. “I don’t want to see it anymore.” The memory was more than I could stand.

I quickly rose then ran to where the crowds were. I needed this welcomed buffer. I was on the brink of a psychotic episode.

Walking on Broadway and then down 52nd, my legs eventually gave out from exhaustion. I propped myself against a building.

Irony would have it to be the office of Atlantic Records - one of the record companies Brad had presented my demo to and heard nothing from. What a cruel satirical moment. It was yet another jab from the powers that be, mocking me.

A voice rang out during this despondent lull. A male voice called my name sounding vaguely familiar.

I was too tired to care though.

Maybe it’s God calling down to me, finally - asking if I’m ready to throw in the towel, and be rid of this wretched existence.

“Yari, is that you?” The source of the voice stood before me. “Holy shit, what the hell happened to you?”

I looked up, struggling to focus on his face, feeling fatigue taking me into the next level of consciousness.

“Hey, it’s me, Frank.” Comforting hands supported my frame, as I came closer to investigate.

It was Frank - the makeshift studio guy.

I was elated to see his familiar puck-marked face and receding hairline.

Adrenalin immediately spurt forth a last bit of energy within by frailness. I straightened myself to speak, willing myself to awaken. It was as if I were looking at Jesus Christ himself. Frank certainly was no saint, even far from being a man of religious virtues. But he was like my savior at that moment.

“F-Frank,” my voice faltered. Then I started to cry. “Brad is dead, and I’m homeless.”

That was all I needed to say.

He took me to his apartment and fed me. I told him of all my misfortune in New York. Frank said little. He just listened. After a couple hours of reliving my nightmare, he told me to sleep.

Frank was strategic in getting me back on my feet when I didn’t have a pot to piss in. He arranged for me to live with his spinster sister in Brooklyn. I got a job at a grocery mart to help Phyllis out.

It was a boring existence. But I was alive.

I fell in a bucket of shit and come out smelling like roses this time.

I read a lot, wrote songs. I chose not to go back to school because of the uncertainly of wanting to stay in New York. There were just too many bad memories to keep me there.

Several months into this influx Frank came to me with a business proposal.

“Music is my life, and I know it’s yours.” His approach was all business. “If you still want to break into the industry as much as I do, then I seriously think that we need to move to Hollywood.” His eyes bore into me with serious intensity. The thick New York accent poured over his words. “It’s only in California where we stand a chance. I’ll be your manager. You’ve got what it takes. All you need to do is show them. I’m not irresponsible like Brad unfortunately was. I have money saved, and connections there. It’ll be tough in the beginning, but I think it can be done.”

He put a lot of thought into the plan, and clearly he was desperate for an excuse to give California another go. Frank didn’t have a wife or kids to hold him back. I wanted to go, but it was Frank’s occasional impeding dominance with the dash of machismo that caused my hesitation. He had the arrogant business ethics that I feared would conflict with my, more or less, aggressive tendencies.

In a nut shell, conflict seemed eminent. But all things considered, what choice did I have. Either I went to California to face our impending creative differences, or I stayed in New York and watched myself slowly amount to nothing.

It was September of ‘87, and I opted for the former.

Frank Pescotti and I loaded up his brand-new Camaro with limited possessions, and started off for our cross-country trek to California - chasing after the American dream of becoming a rock star.

Chapter 11

We arrived in Los Angeles, California four days after our exodus from New York City. Just before getting off of Route 101, I caught a glimpse through the hazy smog of the iconic Hollywood sign that straddled Mount Lee.

I gasped.

“There it is, kid.” Frank said, sharing in my awe. “It gives me goose-bumps every time I see it.”

“Holey shit.” I said in a near whisper. “When was the last time you were here?” I asked, never taking my eyes off of the legendary hallmark.

“Two years ago.” His face lit, erasing some of his unpleasant features. “I’m definitely due for a visit.”

Frank usually traveled to L.A. by plane every few years for business. He apparently established some connections, mostly small record studios, radio disk jockeys, and night club owners.

We pulled off the Hollywood Boulevard exit merging onto its infamous stretch of road. Frank wanted to give me the grand tour before we settled into the motel.

It was like another world. The palm trees weren’t remotely close to anything I’d ever seen. Their tropical presence was foreign, exquisite. It was early fall, but the sun was still bright and hot - a different kind of hot - dry, not humid like New York; it didn’t suck the life out of me. There was also a delicious, refreshing breeze coming in from the Pacific Ocean, an ocean I had never seen. It didn’t look that much different than the water back East, but it certainly felt different. The whole atmosphere felt different . . . organic.

We were coasting down Hollywood Boulevard, and I was beside myself with wonder. Frank looked at me, offering an esoteric laugh. Even though, he had been to Los Angeles many times before, I saw a glimmer of excitement in his eyes, too - my star-struck reaction brought it out of him.

He drove to some landmarks for me to see. Television, books, and pictures are what I came to know of L.A’s historic sites. Capital Records was host to this golden road of dreams. I silently pleaded that one day I would walk straight through that elaborate blues, mural entranceway of this cylinder building, with the promise of fame and stardom offered to me.

The large and perfectly positioned sidewalk stars lead our way along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I made a mental note to marry hands with John Lennon and Jim Morrison’s imprints.

The You Are the Star mural then came into view. I shook with the anticipation of pointing out the celebrities that I knew. Its movie theatre display of all the forefathers and mothers of entertainment’s past ignited a shiver of excitement up my spine.

There they were - eternally looking upon the wide-eyed and bushy tailed potentials - the future generations of stars. Would I know the euphoria of becoming like one of them someday?

Frank pulled over so that I could take a closer look.

Amidst all the known stars, it was the lackluster image of Lassie that held my gaze. He looked at me with a depraved sorrow. What was he seeking in me – was it my extensive guilt?

The dark eyes bore into my fragile soul, unexpectedly reminding me of my childhood dog, Anja. She was Victoria’s dog before her marriage to Marty. Marty was forced to live with the canine, much to his displeasure. Victoria wouldn’t move in with him unless the dog went too.

Marty hated Anja, and went out of his way to make that poor dog miserable whenever he was home. That bastard kicked Anja so hard once, she inherited a permanent limp.

Marty never differentiated between his cruelty to animals and people - he made sure to treat everything like shit. He didn’t hit Victoria or me and Eli, but the poisonous acid that oozed from his forked tongue was just as, if not, more painful.

I came home from school one day when I was seven, and Anja was nowhere to be found. When I asked Victoria where the dog was, she responded only with watery eyes and an immediate exit from the room. Later that evening at the dinner table, I asked of Anja’s whereabouts again, Marty snickered. “She went to the dog farm,” he said, spitting food from his overstuffed mouth.

I looked to my mother for an explanation into this unknown place. She turned to Marty with angry eyes then back to me. That was the first and only time I ever saw Victoria confront Marty. She then took a deep breath, turning sincere. Her attention was to me. “It’s a place where dogs go when they’re sick.”

I didn’t press the issue. With Marty finding humor in the sensitive subject, I knew Anja’s unexpected disappearance had to of been at the hands of someone capable of hurting such an innocent creature . . . someone like Marty.

The next day I found a strange, fresh mound of dirt in the backyard while playing. Years later I realized that it was where poor Anja was buried.

I hope she died quickly.

Anja’s pitiful life disturbingly mirrored my own. Her fate would have been mine if I had stayed in Shelby. Marty would likely not have murdered me, but he would have definitely killed my spirit, potentially causing me to end up like my mother.

“You ok?” Frank interrupted my meandering. “You look . . . broken up about somethin’.”

“What?” I nonchalantly pulled myself together, erasing any signs of vulnerability. “No.”

“Oh,” he said with a note of doubt.

I ignored him. I needed Frank to trust that I could keep my cool through our quest for success. If Brad were with me instead, he would have certainly treated me like a fragile orchid that would break at the slightest meltdown. But Frank wasn’t so privy to my past. I wanted it to stay that way. I made the decision to keep him in the dark. We were business partners, not friends. He needed to see that I was strong as a bull.

Frank merged back into traffic.

I picked up on the tune radiating from the car radio - Scorpion’s “No One Like You.”

Frank turned up the volume.

The song brought me back to my musical purpose in L.A.

Amidst all the famous theatres, hotels and museums sprinkled along Hollywood Boulevard, the street pedestrians were what intrigued me the most. All the colorful walks of life were completely unfavorable to their surroundings. In an oddly abstruse way, they complimented the symbolism of the once affluent street. An unconventional hodgepodge of Hollywood keystone, there were prostitutes, beggars and preachers relentlessly trying to convert the wicked; tourists, unconscious to anything but the attractions. And a scattering of entertainment hopefuls exiting the theatres - the wide-eyed wanderers, like myself.

We finished the tour of Hollywood Boulevard. Frank then merged left, making for its brother Sunset. I was soon looking down the stretch of the Sunset Strip. It was a beast all its own - more my kind of scene - a musician’s paradise.

There were trendy nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shops spanning the entire length of the strip that attracted celebrities and celebrity wannabes. I fantasized of meeting Robert Plant, Bono, or even River Phoenix. Acting was another realm of entertainment that fascinated me.

Billboards were plastered on every conceivable available space - even manmade iron-tree stands that shot-up sixty feet into the air - ads for everything from movies, local concerts, rock albums, theatre shows, sports cars, name-brand clothing, makeup, and perfumes. The boulevard was a mecca for vanity.

Rock types were everywhere, crawling all over the sidewalks - mainstream guys who yearned for stardom, mimicking the styles of Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses, and Motley Crue - the look that Brad so perfectly portrayed. If only he could’ve been there that momentous day to share in the wonder.

Frank stopped the Camaro at the start of the strip. He pulled alongside a two-level building affixing the corners of Sunset and Clark Street. The top half of the trendy-looking structure was painted white with the bottom red. Festooned where the two streets met was what looked like a drive-in movie theatre sign. Scribbled in white neon font was the caption: The Whiskey.

“Let’s get out for a sec.” He opened the driver’s side door without waiting for a response from me.

I followed him while he carefully looked over the building, as if reliving some long lost memory.

“If this building could talk. . .” he said, more to himself than me.

The exterior was covered with small billboards advertising concerts for Winger and Europe. Wallpaper ads tacked the front for local bands scheduled to perform there.

I read the lineups while Frank stared at something on the second floor.

“Yari, you’ll be posted on these walls someday.”

Would I ever perform at a place that large? I couldn’t fathom it. As badly as I wanted to be the next big thing, it just felt so out of reach. I loved that Frank was optimistic though. Someone had to be.

“I remember back in the sixties seeing The Doors perform here.” Frank shook his head with a nostalgic sigh as he recalled the performance. “It was called Whisky A Go-Go then. They were incredible live. Life was so different then . . . wild . . . free. That was my first visit to L.A.”

“Must’ve been one hell of show.” I was envious that he had been around when Jim Morrison was alive. I would’ve killed to see him live. The Doors were one of my classic faves, along with Zeppelin and The Beatles. They are forefathers of rock.

“Yeah,” he glanced at me with a mischievous sneer. “It damn sure was. I was right up front where I could see the sweat dripping off of Jim’s face. It was fucking intense. The best part though, was the way he interacted with the audience. He had such incredible charisma. That good-looking son-of-a-bitch could charm the audience into doing anything he wanted them to do. He was a fucking puppet-master.” He paused then turned to me. “The key to being a successful performer is you’ve got to be one hell of a charmer. Confidence is the ticket. Win the crowd, and you’ll win a one-way ticket to stardom.” His hands were flailing like the quintessential peisan that he was, emphasizing every syllable with a finger jab into the air or a wave. “If you can show everyone in the audience that you fear nothing, and can communicate to them in such a way that captures their senses, you’ll have them by the balls.”

I thought back to my performances at Cobra. My confidence reached a high note toward the end. ‘Course, I took speed to get me through the shows.

“It’s been awhile since I sang live. I need some practice. I could use a guitar, too.”

“We’ll look around for one.” He headed back to the car.

I turned one last time to survey The Whisky, pleading that one day I would perform in a famous nightclub like that.

We coasted along Sunset. I don’t know if it was the vibe of that nightclub, but my mojo seemed to be resurrected.

I was starting to believe that Frank wasn't entirely interested in just my talent, but rather more so the prospective financial value that it possessed. He was a business man – I had to give him that. Often I would ask myself, “Would Frank have been bothered to save me, or even had recognized me on that sidewalk in New York if I hadn’t been a descent singer?”

He wasn’t a vicious guy, but he did possess a strong self-preserving quality. As much as Frank made minor attempts at showing he cared about my plight, his own interests would ultimately find their way into the equation.

I don’t know why I trusted him, but I did – to a degree. He’d given me no reason to think he was a pervert or killer. I guess if he was either of those, he had ample opportunity to reveal it.

When you’ve been down and out as many times as I have though, you’re willing to take risks. I trusted, too, of course, that he could get me somewhere in this business. Ultimately, that’s what it all boiled down to.

Frank did pretty well with his basement studio, it seemed. The 80’s rock movement caused an abundance of guy-band hopefuls to believe they had what it took to be the next Van Halen or Poison. Regardless of their inability to get a record deal, Frank made sure to benefit from their dreams. When he saw an opportunity to make money he took advantage. Of course, his abundance of money grew from a talent for hiding cash from the feds. That brand new ‘87 Camaro couldn’t have been purchased with an honest, makeshift-studio recorder’s salary. It was paid in-full.

After my grand tour of the L.A. hot spots, Frank and I headed to our temporary residency. Exactly how temporary, was to be determined. Until the money ran out, I guessed.

Before making our way there, we stopped for lunch at Ben Frank’s coffee shop on Sunset. The Jetson-looking building clashed with its surroundings. I felt like I was stepping back into the sixties, but at the same time, going into the future – it was weird. The rust-colored roof looked like it was caving in. Apparently, it was an intentional architectural design. There wasn’t anything like that in my neck of the woods. I felt like I was in Vegas with its dagger sign-post displaying the restaurant’s insignia in red scripted font. There’s no accounting for taste apparently.

Frank and I sat at a corner table, and discussed the plan for the weeks to come.

“When we stopped in Arizona,” he said reaching for a menu by the condiments. “I was able to book us a motel, The Clifton. It’s one of those deals that offer extended stays. It won’t be luxury, I can guarantee you that. But it was cheap and the area isn’t too bad.”

“I’m not picky. You saw where I used to live. Anything other than the streets, works for me.”

A twenty-ish waitress stopped by the table to take our order. Her bright pink and blue makeup with big bleached-out hair made her look like a clown. I never understood the retro concept. Having never colored or permed my hair, and hating the ritual of plastering my face with products that caused acne, bridged an even larger gap between me and most girls.

“What can I get, ya?” she asked, chewing gum like a cow chomping hay.

“I’ll have the cheeseburger combo with a chocolate shake - medium on the burger.” Frank said.

“And you?” she asked me.

I looked up catching a glimpse of her nametag. “Candy.” What a cliché. Did she have any originality in her?

“I’ll have a grilled cheese with a diet Coke.” I handed her the menu without being polite. Her presence annoyed me. I wanted her to leave.

Frank picked up where we left off. “I have a couple of appointments this week that I’ll be going to, alone. I want to feel things out, see what rock bars are looking for. Next week we’ll be auditioning band members, assuming that we get a good turn out from the ad that I’m posting in the local classified. If we get quick responses, auditions will start immediately. Then we rehearse. In the meantime, I need you to practice your pitch on your songs. Maybe even write a couple of new ones.”

“I’m one step ahead of you.” I grinned, pulling a clump of hair from my neck. It was warm and my thick wavy mane, now a bouffant from the heat, was causing the air around me to be ten degrees warmer. “I actually wrote a few songs during our cross country trek.”

The annoying waitress reappeared with our drinks. I was relieved for the cold beverage, but irritated by the dirty look she gave me. Great - I was sure to either have spit or a booger in my food. I eyed the cola suspiciously.

“After we settle in at the motel, I’ll take you to a local guitar shop.”

I glanced at Frank trying to find the right words to say what was necessary. I’d never met someone, outside of Brad, who went out of their way to help me. I was appreciative.

As if he could sense my thoughts, he saved me from the awkward moment. “This is a two person effort here,” he started. “We’re partners. You’ve gotta work your ass off. This isn’t a vacation. It won’t be easy. The music business doesn’t take kindly to anyone, even someone with a great voice. With any luck though, you’ll get discovered before I go broke.”

His hands tapped the table in a nervous rhythm, while his eyes darted from me to the wall every few seconds. Frank wasn’t exactly sentimental, always appearing uncomfortable when emotions were involved.

“You’ll have to get a job, too,” he continued. “It doesn’t have to be anything significant. Just something that will buy us food and maybe gas. That way, my money will go toward everything else. I do have that demo of you from New York, but we’ll need to make a more extensive one when we get a band.”

It was so like Frank to work his priorities into a conversation about me. It had become evident that his generosity possessed a personal agenda. It didn’t take long to see where I stood with him. I was a means to an end.

Regardless of his objective I was going to work hard for me. There was nothing in my way. School wasn’t going to be a distraction. I had mixed feelings about dropping-out the summer before my junior year. I enjoyed its educational principles. Learning came easy. I missed it. But my music out-weighed everything else.

Candy was back with our food. I didn’t make eye contact for fear that I might discover some truth to my food contamination suspicion.

“We’ve gotta come up with a Yari-image for me to promote.” Frank continued. “I know you’re not big into wearing makeup and skirts, but we need to compromise on something other than jeans and a t-shirt.”

Frank noticed the contempt forming on my face.

“What did you have in mind, then?” I said, with less bitterness than I really wanted to convey.

“Don’t freak out.” He plopped his half-finished burger on the plate then wiped his hands with the transparent paper napkins. “I saw you perform at Cobra one night, and your look was . . . well, you did look a little washed out from the lighting, and the flats on your feet didn’t exactly age you. I was thinking more Lita Ford, toned down.”

I bit my lip, taking in his illustrious image of what he wanted me to look like with loathing acidity. He was a man, and it was in their nature to want women to look like whores. Brad and Victor were just as guilty in forcing me to adorn a prostitute facade. I was done with the misogynistic advice. A sex kitten, I was not. I wanted to be taken seriously as a singer, like Janis Joplin or Joan Jet. Neither of them whored around on the stage, and they made it just fine in the biz.

There wasn’t going to be a compromise.

“Frank, it’s really important to me that I’m respected as a musician. I don’t want to be a sex symbol, or at least, I don’t want that to be my goal. I agree, jeans and a t-shirt aren’t exactly flattering, but I can come up with a look that is. Just give me some time to look around at the consignment shops. I have great style. I just never cared to show it off.” I paused to take in his reaction. He was stoic. “I’m different and if I’m going to be on stage making the audience bend to my whim then I need to be myself.” I stopped there. It was my turn to wait for him to reject my idea.

He looked at me intently, sucking on his teeth. I doubted he would bend. Frank liked to get his way.

“I know your style isn’t mainstream, hell, I could tell that by your dark music. So obviously your look needs to match your sound. But,” he emphasized the “but” and broke slightly. Of course there was a proviso. “We live in an age of sex. It’s everywhere and people want it. You’re a good looking girl under that t-shirt and boring hair. Use your assets to sell your music. I’m not asking you to be braless on stage, or even show your legs, although it would be nice and beneficial. Fitted clothes, makeup, and a hairdo will suffice.”

What a jerk-off.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. There was no way I was letting him get a hold of my look. I’ll dress in what I want, not his idea of a half-naked pinup so he could get his rocks off. I’m not a prostitute, and he sure as hell wasn’t my pimp.

I stayed quiet, avoiding an argument.

He mistook my silence as confirmation to his plan.

“There’s no time to waste. Be realistic in the look that you show me. I’m not messing around about that.”

Frank’s officious tone rubbed me wrong. Having the predisposition to lash out whenever someone tried to dictate my actions or control me, was a characteristic I forced myself to suppress during that conversation with Frank. It was too soon to start a fight with him. But the trust issues that I accrued over the years were igniting. Was he using me? Were his intensions to control my every move? I hoped a battle of the wills would not erupt between us during my quest for stardom.

Our waitress quickly dropped the bill and rushed off. Frank left money on the table.

At two o’clock the sun was still merciless - high and hot.

“Once we marry your look with your music, we’ll have something to work with.” Frank was accelerating the gas. “Today is Tuesday - you have until a week from tomorrow to come up with something. That should give you enough time to find your secondhand shops. And visit a salon. I’ll give you a hundred dollars to work with.”

I bit my tongue then clenched my jaw. His condescending tone was pissing me off.

Frank glanced in my direction, detecting my irritation. “I know how badly you want this to happen. I can’t want it more than you in some ways. But, we need to work hard. There isn’t a whole lot of time. I might come off as a hard-nosed prick, but it’s the only way to be in this business. As shitty as it might be to take, when I get that way it’s only because I’m looking out for our best interest. You might not realize it now, but you’ll see.”

I reached over to turn up the radio in hopes of ending the prickly conversation. Heart’s “Magic Man” was playing on a local station. I knew the song verbatim, and started to bellow.

“Come on home, girl, mama cried on the phone; too soon to lose my baby, yet my girl should be at home; but try to understand, try to understand; try, try, try to understand; he’s a magic man, mama.”

Frank listened with a slight nodding motion of the head in unison with the beat. I sang the damn song better than Ann Wilson. When it was over, he turned the music down and smiled wide.

“I love your voice. It amazes me that a seventeen year-old can have such smooth, deep vocals that can hold any pitch. You’re talented, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get you to the top.” He laughed out loud then turned serious. “And I’m gonna tell people you’re eighteen to avoid the legal-age issue. Once you’re dolled up, you’ll look older. As for you being a female singer, well, you’ll have to work your ass off to prove to the record execs, or rather the night club owners for now, that you’re serious and good at what you do - regardless of what’s between your legs.”

Frank was always good for speaking so eloquently with a hint of crudeness. I understood what he meant though about the whole sexism in rock. The eighties bands were made up of testosterone engorged guys, leaving little room for the female element, unless she’s available for their kinky pleasure. The industry was marketing the singers as sex gods, and the only place for women was in their videos bare-ass. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t out to be an erection for some egotistical pig. I wanted to be respected as a musician. Not as a cupie doll.

Female rockers were like rare orchids in a cesspool of rotting dicks. Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Heart, and Lita Ford, to name a few, were successful in making their mark. I wasn’t anything like them - my style was harder, like a tamed Ozzy – but I was going to make my mark - become the antidote-anthem of female rock.

My goal was to change the industry, make them see that female musicians could be smart and edgy without getting a boob-job to entice the audience. I was more talented than those male leotard-wearing sissies.

I just needed the chance to prove it.