Monday, July 12, 2004

PART 6 - Comfortably Numb

Great band that they are, Pink Floyd certainly deserves a second chance at hosting a post. Appropriately enough, I am listening to Comfortably Numb. The correlation will become clearer soon.

Come on, now.
I hear you’re feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain,
Get you on your feet again.

Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working. Good.
That’ll keep you going for the show.
Come on, it’s time to go . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I remember watching the television broadcast of Russians tearing the wall down. There were throngs of people dancing in the street, beating the wall with hammers, sticks, whatever they could get their hands on. Some were too stunned to speak, and some were driven to tears. The bravest ones climbed to the top, shaking fistfuls of rubble at the sky, declaring their freedom to the world. I completely understood them. All of them.

The years that followed my father's exodus were freewheeling and carefree. Our house became, for all intents and purposes, THE party house. The doors were never locked, and all were welcome to come and crash. Along with us, my mother was enjoying the basic freedom of not being under the threat of an oppressive dictator, and she seemed to enjoy the spirit of the house, even if she didn't or refused to see the debauchery.

In some ways, we all blossomed in his absence. GB was free to pursue his guitar studies in peace, and in short order, his mastery of the guitar rivaled LP's mastery of the piano. Whether it was out of boredom or fear of competition, LP dropped his classical studies and concentrated fully on his newly-formed band.

Those that weren't drawn to our house because of the liberal rules were drawn there to witness the beginnings of a damn good band. The practice sessions were like little concerts, and our basement was always packed with hangers-on and worshippers. They all wanted to touch the hem of LP's garment, and all of them vyed for his attentions and his friendship.

The excitement was infectious, and occasionally, I would slip downstairs to peek in on the practices. I would perch silently on the staircase, watching. LP rarely acknowledged my presence. Occasionally, he would throw a verbal slap my way, calling me horrible names that elicited gales of laughter from his band of followers. It was humiliating for me, and it angered me. I didn't understand then how much my presence threw him; but I think I understand it now.

He was gaining quite a bit of notoriety then. Writeups in local papers detailed his musical accomplishments, our livingroom became the Wall of Fame that proudly displayed awards, certificates, ribbons and letters of commendation from organizations that had invited him to perform in front of large audiences around Atlanta. He was being courted by studios, and colleges. Everyone could see the promise in him, and his future seemed preordained.

We always attended these functions. Every one of them. Countless evenings were spent sitting quietly during his performances, and witnessing him accepting some award or another. Two things always struck me about those events: the thundrous applause and showers of accolades that poured over him, and his confident air in the face of it all. He seemed to be the consummate performer, all cool and composed. Actually, he was high. Every time.

I suppose he didn't have much choice in the matter. To not perform was unthinkable. He had been trained to perform, my parents had paid dearly for him to perform. It was expected; people were waiting. Always waiting. No one ever saw the chink in the armor. He was a master of disguise, hiding his anxiety, his shame and his chemical dependencies from the outside world.

He rarely met my gaze, but when he did, he came face to face with everything that he wanted to hide. I always knew when he was using. I could tell with one look. With one look, I could break him. Over and over again. My presence negated everything, every award, every compliment. It all turned to shit when he met my gaze. I became the personification of all of his failings, and all of his secrets. He hated me. I hated him, too, but worse than that, I made him hate himself. Just by standing there.

I saw less and less of LP during that time. He pretty much took up residence in the basement. When he did come upstairs to sleep, it was long past the time I went to bed. His room was strictly off-limits, and he had taken great pains to paint the walls dark blue. Blacklights replaced his regular lamps, and blacklight posters and band logos graced his walls. Ashtrays were always overflowing. The room reeked of cigarettes, stale air, dirty clothes, leftover food. Other than school, daytime hours were reserved for sleeping. And getting high.

His days passed in mind-numbing clouds of smoke. But as long as he was able to perform when the curtain called, no one pushed the issue. No one questioned him. No one ever caught on. It was easy to live that way, and soon it became more normal than normal.

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