“So kiss him again,
Just to prove to me that you can,
I will stand here and burn in my skin,” – from “Burn” by Ray LaMontagne (LaMontagne)
“Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull,
And cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul,” – from “I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen (Springsteen)
As the summer days race toward their end, I am drawn back to the beginning of the season and the words I wrote about how I feel so lost from my friends. So lost I rode my motorcycle the 2500 miles from Los Angeles to Toronto and “screamed banshees” through our old neighbourhoods.
It has been a summer of reflection and trying to understand myself and my actions more or less over the last ten years. Those ten years include the inspiration for my TV show Astoria, and then the writing and five year run of the show itself. Before I give you the final stories and their life altering conclusions ever appropriately accompanied by Springsteen inspirational quotes, I want to revisit the scene from Season 1 of Astoria when I followed Erica to the departure area of Toronto’s Pearson Airport, and then followed myself home.
In case you forgot, the story went something like this:
From what Erica’s sister Nikki told me, Erica was on her way back to her fiancé Damo. At least that’s what I inferred from Nikki telling me that Erica was on her way to the airport. I didn’t wait around to hear the rest, if there was a rest to hear.
I got out of the cab bristling with nervous energy. The departure drop-off lanes at Pearson were their usual mess of cars swerving over each other. Every part of me had a layer of perspiration. I had no idea of the airline, so I entered the nearest doors and searched in every direction. I might have even stared at the ground in case somehow Erica found herself meshed with the cold tiles.
It was ridiculous to think that anything was going to happen with her and I. This, more or less, was what Omar yelled after me as I bolted for the door. Chris just said my name in an imploring lilt, and I believe Cynthia said something about being a dummy. All due respect to my friends but, fuck those guys. We finally – only took five years, five hundred conversations, and one awesome night on my couch – proved them wrong. Though the current state of Erica and I maybe proved them right.
I looked up and saw Erica standing with Damo not more than 100 feet away. He had a traveler’s backpack snug to his shoulders and she had nothing more than her purse hanging tight to her back. Her hands rested on his shoulders and his cupped her waist. I willed my feet to move but the neurons must have crossed the signals as I could nothing but stand rigid with unblinking eyes and I was drawn into the past.
Nikki, Chris, Erica, Cynthia and I sat around the kitchen table in Cynthia’s apartment. We were pretty wasted after a night of drinking everything we had on hand, and intermittently dancing to Frank Sinatra and punk songs from our recent youth. It was funny to think of our 24 year-old selves with our worlds in front of us. Chris mentioned a key he found in the grass while playing his guitar at a picnic table in Bellwoods Park. The key had a worn 118 in black courier font imprinted atop the flat orange edge opposite its tip. It looked like something for a locker at a bus shelter or airport. We bandied theories as to what locker 118 might contain. Some of the memorable things were the remains of the Lindburgh baby (Cynthia), the remains of the day (Erica), butts (me), and amazing boobs (Chris). Nikki, filled with two years more youthful optimism brought up the “what if”.
“What if, good or bad, and through some marvel of magic it contained what your heart most desires? Would you open it to see if it aligns with what you think you really want?” she said.
We shared quick glances and sly smirks with each other, and Cynthia quick poured everyone a shot of Jameson. The shots found their homes with ease.
“I would open the fuckin’ thing because if it didn’t have a guitar made of money held together by the love of multiple gorgeous women, it would be full of shit because that is, right now at this minute, what I most desire,” Chris said. He then took a sip from his beer and slammed in down on the kitchen table.
“Watch the table you dolt,” Cynthia said. Chris repeated the phrase back at her in a mocking tone and she flashed him a middle finger.
“You think that’s what you’ll want forever?” Nikki said.
“Part of me will always want my songs to famous, a lot of money, and the love of a gorgeous woman, so yes,” he said.
“Not women, you misogynistic dickhead?” Cynthia said. Chris took another sip from his beer and flashed his own finger at her.
“I’ve seen so much life, death, and literal shit just in my hospital placements that I know if I opened it there would most likely just be a question mark,” Nikki said.
“What the hell does that mean?” I said.
“It means that I know I want something, I just don’t know what. It seems to change every day,” she said.
“But didn’t you say it contains what we most desire, meaning above all, above our daily lives?” Erica said.
“Ya, but after being a nurse for only three months, and seeing the stuff I’ve seen, I can say I don’t know if my heart even knows that anymore,” Nikki said sipping from her almost empty glass of merlot.
“I don’t think I get it then,” I said.
“You don’t have to,” Cynthia said and then after a gulp of her beer she continued. “I would open the thing because I don’t believe in that shit anyway.”
“I would open it because I just want to know the answer,” Erica said.
“I wouldn’t because I would be terrified it was something I had never seen nor heard of,” I said.
I would be terrified will be my epitaph because when I look back to every major moment in my life, those words or some variation of them, have always been the first ones to pass my lips. When I have made a major change or taken a major step it has always been with the prodding of my friends or another loved one.
And so, back to the departure gates at Pearson Airport. Erica standing with Damo 100 feet away. Hands placed on his shoulders and cupping waists. He spoke to her and she was alternately looking down at their feet and into his eyes. When he finished, she paused and let out a breath. She said something short to him, after which they shared a kiss. I didn’t see its end as I turned and was through the doors moments after lips met lips.
Upon reflection, I was there to apologize for greeting her surprise arrival the week before and the subsequent pleas for friendship with a cold shoulder. My reaction inspired by my hurt at her leaving without a word two years previous. I realize now that I was terrified to approach Erica and Damo because I didn’t know how to apologize. When I saw her back with Damo, about to travel back to Papua New Guinea and move into the rest of their lives, I felt my apology would fall on deaf ears and wasn’t really needed. At least that is what I told myself. What it really came down to was I, again, was terrified that my assumption would be true and rather than have my last words to Erica and Damo be an apology, I decided to leave them with the last words I’ve since forgotten.
Except Erica wasn’t there to leave with Damo, she was there to see him off and say goodbye. This I realized when she knocked on my door a few hours later. In those intervening hours I had sat at the bar of the West 22 Room and gone home with Omar’s friend Amanda. The same Amanda who called out from my bedroom and broke the silenced shock Erica and I shared when I opened the apartment door to find her there. When she heard Amanda’s voice, Erica bailed and we didn’t speak for a while. The first season of Astoria deals with all this if you ever caught it.
If I’ve learned anything from the summer of 2016 and my sojourn back to my home town where all of my favourite friendships and memories were conceived, it’s how much I have let the fear of knowing guide my life. I left L.A. because I didn’t want to know the dirty truth of why Erica and I weren’t working out. On the surface, it was entirely me, but why? I didn’t speak to Erica and Damo at the airport because I was afraid of knowing what they were going to do. We did move L.A. and we did the show for five years, and while I feel like I pushed fear aside a tad, I realize after this summer how many more questions came up while fictionalizing the “best years” in the life of my friends and myself. When it came to asking a tough question of one of them for context, I swayed from that course and made something up.
Summer is nearing its end and it’s time to leave the comfort of Toronto – the place I always dreamed of making a part of my past – for the uncomfort of Los Angeles with the hope that there are people to return to. At least this time I’ll be riding head first into fear and anxiety instead of holding the pole position in the pathetic race away from both. Not even the gold medal winner in avoidance could win that race.