In the hallway, my mother held me while I sobbed. “I’m just so tired,” I said. “I can’t sleep, Mom. I’m so tired. You can’t even believe how tired I am.”

My Grandmother leaned over my mom and rubbed my back.

“She’s not feeling well,” my mom said. “I don’t know what it is.” Then she whispered, “Something is really wrong.”

Grammie said she was worried about the insomnia. “She’s up at all hours, typing all night long—I try to make her hot toddies but she won’t drink them.”

“I don’t know if I like the idea of giving her alcohol,” my mom said. “Maybe half a Halcion would help.”

Sleeping pills.

I knew some of the residents of the nursing home took them from all the times I lined up and counted everyone’s medication bottles. I also knew my mother liked them almost as much as M*A*S*H and Jesus Christ. That one time I snuck one from her purse, it did help me. I couldn’t deny that. But now it was being discussed as something that would no longer have to be kept secret. How was I supposed to respond to that?

I rubbed the snot from my nose and said to my mom, “Maybe you’re right.” That felt weird. Secret things were all I knew: the embarrassment I thought I would die from if anyone found out about my obsession with Ethiopian hunger spreading to America and killing everyone in my family; how Gorbachev would let loose his missiles if I didn’t keep writing down song lyrics with the word war in them; my new way of shaving my legs hard and fast so that each bloody scrape along my shinbone represented one person in the world who wouldn’t succumb to famine or war.

Now the 8pm  med round would include me and my sleeping pills. I’d wait like everyone else, ticking off the minutes until peace floated in as pure as a changeling through the window. I would get excited about shows that came on at six o’clock because that meant I only had two hours left—the evening news meant one hour—and so on. I would never again be able to associate the opening music to Punky Brewster with anything other than T-minus thirty minutes to blastoff.

At first it was easy. At first Halcion was gorgeous. All warm eclipses and moon breath. I would lie in my bed and wait for sleep to cover me. These weren’t the Bible flames I was used to, no Devil bombs being cast down to crush the skulls of the non-believers. These were slow blooming candle flowers. This was the word b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l lined up across the sky.

My pills actually gave me three days in a row of good sleep. I took a shower like a regular person, stayed out of the nurses office in school for a full week and completed all of my math homework. I even finished a long division quiz in class (only got a 46 percent but I finished it).

Then, just like that, the pills stopped working. I downed my little 8 o’clock half, laid in my bed with some Edgar Allan Poe or my taped reruns of Bewitched and waited for my fading.

Nothing happened.

“Sometimes they do that” my mom said, but more than half a pill was never offered.

One night, while waiting to see if my half pill—and the whole one I took from the medicine cabinet—would kick in, Marisol caught me coming out of the bathroom with my eyes all puffy and full of my familiar woe-is-me-will-this-ever-end tears. “Joo come here, honey.” She clutched my arm, sat me down on her bed, and told me all I needed was a giant gulp of Nyquil. “I never in my life have good rest with no somesing to help me.” She opened her nightstand drawer and pulled out an econo-size bottle of bright green slush. The light caught the liquid inside and made me think of magic trees and enchanted bugs. I took a long swig. Tinkerbell was all lit up in my mouth. Under my Strawberry Shortcake comforter I was a little flying thing—then a great big flying thing with my own wings and ambitions. A leaf sparkled from the ceiling then dripped into my face. I caught it under my eyelash then blinked it into two leaves, then ten, then a hundred. I did this until I couldn’t count anymore, until I was so smart and glowing you could have made a whole woodland poem out of me. One that you would eventually know by heart and want to hear again and again.

Pretty soon the only thing I wanted was Nyquil. One capful every night. Eight o’clock. I promised myself that this much happiness would have to stay at one capful, and only at bedtime, and even if I could divide fractions better with two capfuls I made myself say it out loud: “Only when it’s bedtime.”

Then I got a lead role in my sophomore class production of The Matchmaker and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking or my stomach from turning or my throat from tightening every time I thought about passing out on stage.

It only took a week for me to change my mind about that one capful.

My only real panic attacks had been limited to a sharing circle in the sixth grade when someone threw a Lando Calrissian action figure at my face while I read a poem about my cat, and once at the Burger Pit with Mom and Grammie after realizing I had already eaten half my cheeseburger before noticing the middle of the meat patty was so uncooked even a zombie wouldn’t be okay with it. Running to the girl’s bathroom with Lando’s body indention bright red on my cheek, scampering under the restaurant table to hyperventilate and throw up in my napkin—it didn’t matter where I was or what circumstances had whipped me up into a panicky spaz, the attacks always began the same way: everything dark and shrinking, shadow gnomes laughing at me through the filthy periscope lens of my brain. Sometimes my whole body would tingle, sometimes only my chest and hands, but each time it was the tightness that would never let go. Like the whole of me had been wrapped in an Ace bandage. I could actually feel the valves in my heart open and close, my pulse spewing out my blood, taking it back.

In and out.

Hiss and growl.

They’re going to see you faint. They’ll know what a loser you are. When my dad found me in the bathroom of the condo he was now sharing with his girlfriend, I was breathing into the paper bag I carried around in my purse.

“What’s this all about?”

“I feel so sick,” I answered. “My burrito tasted funny. Did yours taste funny?”

Ask questions. Take the eyes off you. Say something clever.

“I think Mexicans are in some sort of conspiracy to spread diarrhea to everyone in all bordering states.”

He laughed a little, but I could tell he didn’t believe me. When you’re used to falling apart, you start to get really good at that sort of acting.


Author’s Note: In Part 1 of this post I discussed my tumultuous relationship with my father, and how we finally began to bond once he saw my band perform. He became so hooked on the band, in fact, that he toured with us for a brief period of time and ended up at a show in New London, Connecticut. That night the club was paying my band twenty-five bucks and a case of beer to perform three sets. And since we were all sick it was our mission to get rid of the beer, as we’d already had problems with the cops and didn’t want to compound those problems by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a case of beer in tow.

And so we started our first set…


Part 2:

Sure we were sick as dogs. Sure we were strung out on NyQuil, codeine, Sudafed, and God knows what else. But you know what? My band tore it up that night in New London. The crowd was loving us. My dad was loving us.

Between most every song the band asked beer questions. They were easy questions. Questions like “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” questions. Those beers grew wings. They flew away left and right. By the end of the first set we’d already given away nine of them.


During our break, my dad rushed up to me. He was still sporting those huge anime eyes.

 

“This is the best show I’ve seen yet!” he said. “Can I ask a beer question next set?!”

I was already so grateful for his interest in my music, and how that had translated into a happier, healthier relationship between the two of us. But this was the absolute best.

“Sure, dad. No problem. I’d love for you to ask a beer question.”

Just before the band began their second set, I racked my brain, trying to devise a way to get the audience all worked up for my dad. I wanted them rabid and frothing at the mouth when he hit the stage.

Then I got an idea. Once the second set rolled around, I got on the mic, and said:

“Being in a band is pretty cool. Sometimes you get to meet people you’d never get a chance to meet otherwise. For example, we recently played New York City. While there, we got a chance to meet one of our all-time favorite idols. In fact, we hit it off so well that he decided to come on the road with us. Well, without any further adieu I’d like to introduce you to WILLIAMSBURROUGHS!!!

 

Being a college crowd, the place went absolute apeshit. And seeing as the place was packed, it was balls-to-the-wall, quadraphonic, cranked-to-ten apeshit.

I glanced over at my bandmates. They were howling hysterically. In fact, it was all I could do to contain my own laughter. Sure my plan was a bit coyote tricksterish. But at the time it seemed the best way to get the crowd all rowled up. I wanted my dad to receive nothing less than a roaring standing ovation.

As for my tipsy dad, he’d been standing in the wings, oblivious to what I’d said on the mic. But he definitely heard the applause. As the crowd roared, a smile split his face wide open. He looked at me. Those eyes of his had gone triple anime. He’d never heard so much applause in all his life.

And it was all for him. Well, for William S. Burroughs really.

I motioned my dad toward center stage. “C’mon. They’re waiting for you.”

Still sporting that huge grin, he strolled out.

Mind you, my dad has never read William S. Burroughs. And he looks nothing like him either. So as he neared the mic, the massive, wall shaking, bottle-rattling applause diminished to just one person still clapping and cheering.

Besides my dad, I figured that that was the only other person in the club that had never read Naked Lunch.

Once I let my dad and the crowd in on the joke they were all very forgiving. In fact, they were all quite amused. As for the good people of New London, they welcomed my dad with wide-open hearts. And once my dad asked his beer question and left the stage, that fine crowd gave him the same roaring round of applause.

As if my dad had been William S. Burroughs in the flesh.


It was me on drums. Jim on bass. David on guitar. We were three ragtag guys from San Francisco, collectively known as Blue Movie. Our sound was like The Violent Femmes and Husker Du engaged in a threesome with R.E.M.

It was February, the dead of winter. We’d already been touring for two months. We were sick as dogs. We’d chugged so much NyQuil, and had downed so many over-the-counter cold remedies that our stomachs had turned into drug stores.

 

That night we were set to play a small college bar in New London, Connecticut. For three sets of music, the bar was paying us twenty-five bucks and a case of beer.

Seeing as we were all out-of-our minds sick, the band needed to stay sober. One sip of beer added to our already dazed and confused NyQuil haze, and we wouldn’t have been able to pick up our instruments.

So we came up with a plan. We’d simply give away the beer.

But before I tell you about that, I should tell you about my dad.

He and my mom married young. Shortly thereafter, they had my brother and me to take care of. That forced my dad to get very responsible very fast. As I grew older, and became more and more a daydreamer, my personality did not mix well with my father’s ultra-responsible 9-to-5 mentality. For years we simply didn’t get along. Yet when I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Advertising & Public Relations, that’s when my father saw the perfect opportunity for me to finally redeem myself.

The day after graduation, he told me: “Let’s go to J.C. Penney and get you that interview suit so you can get a job in New York City.”

That wasn’t happening. All I wanted to do was to move out to California and play music.

And so I did. And so for a good couple years my father and I rarely spoke. And when we did, our conversations always ended with him saying: “When are you gonna move back east and get serious about life?”

Each and every time, I’d respond: “I am serious about life. I’m in a band. We work hard. And people like us.”

Fast forward to my band recording and going out on tour.

 

My father saw us at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. From the very first song, he couldn’t stop dancing and cheering. Maybe his excitement was due to seeing me on stage for the very first time, or that his own dad had been a musician. Whatever the case, he was hooked. That night my dad became my #1 fan. And the band’s #1 fan, too. He even rearranged his work schedule so that he could follow us as we toured the Northeast. He cheered for us in New York City, Boston, and Providence. Show after show, he’d use his work credit card to buy us meals and hotel rooms.

Now back to that case of beer give away…

My father was at that New London, Connecticut show that night. It was the last show he’d be able to see before having to head back to Jersey.

Just before the band started playing, I got my dad wasted. That wasn’t difficult. He wasn’t a big drinker. Just two beers and he was loopier than a troop of diabetic Girl Scouts in a taffy factory.

After polishing off those beers, my dad looked at me with big shiny anime eyes. “What are you gonna do with the rest of the beer?” he said.

That was a no-brainer. My bandmates and I had already decided to ask the audience beer questions. It was our mission to get rid of the case before we left the club. We’d already had enough problems with cops during our two months on the road. No way did we want to make matters worse by driving around in a NyQuil haze with a bunch of Budweisers in tow.

And so we began our first set…

 

Stay tuned for Part Two:

Just Three Guys On The Road, Playing Music, Chugging NyQuil, and Giving Away Beer (aka: How I Finally Made Peace With My Dad)