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Authors: Deborah Shapiro

The Sun in Your Eyes

BOOK: The Sun in Your Eyes
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Dedication

For Lewis and Callum

Epigraph

Remember it happy; the sun in your eyes.

—N
ICHOLAS
M
OSLEY
,
A
CCIDENT

Contents
Did You Hear That?

Annie Davis

The Village Voice
, March 3, 1975

I
'll admit it: Jesse Parrish used to make me feel bad. Uptight. Not very rock and roll. Like the angry, anxious (ethnic?) New Yorker that I am. He always seemed to be asking, in his easy L.A. way:
Why are you trying so hard?
He made me question what I was seeking. Communion? Transcendence? Freedom? A revolution? He couldn't be bothered with your politics and their complications, he was too busy sustaining eye contact. Too busy, essentially,
being
sex. He was always so distractingly good-looking and sang with such aching need that you forgot to want anything else and what was my point?

Oh, yes. His one-off show at the Academy of Music last Saturday night. It's been less than a year since he released his latest album,
The Garden of Allah,
and then disappeared from view amid rumors he was getting clean or seeking psychiatric help. I wasn't so sure I cared for that troubling record. Stark. Cryptic. Mercurial. It struck me as a fuck-you much more than a fuck-them and I couldn't find a way in. I struggled with just about every song and called it quits at the end of “Goodnight” when he repeats the line “Tell me you care” (I didn't). I heard it as taunting and cold, directed at someone he was ready to be done with. And it was as if he had to voice the line a few times merely to keep himself from falling asleep. The final word in bored detachment. But when he sang it on stage last weekend—tell me
you
care
—
it turned into a plea, an urgent, compulsive mantra. It was sad, searching, and sublime. I've sometimes thought of Jesse as a lesser, slightly campier Neil Young, and did I need a lesser, campier Neil Young? Maybe I did and never knew it. Maybe I never took him
seriously enough. I don't think I could have before this.

Something has changed. Gone are the form-fitting, flamboyant outfits he used to slink around in. Gone, too, the flab and that mustache that followed, a kind of bizarro overcorrection. Let's never speak of it again. Except to say that for a short while there Jesse looked the way so much rock music sounds these days. Bloated. Lumbering. Blah. I caught an echo at his show of what I used to hear, what it used to mean to me, what I wanted. What, deep down, I still do. Communion, transcendence, freedom. Revolution? I don't know. Call it rebellion. That spirit that never really goes away. It only goes underground if it has to, until it finds a new form, alive again. In the meantime, I'll be patient. I'll wait it out with Jesse Parrish. I'll tell you I care.

Jesse Parrish Dead in Car Crash

By Reuters

June 24, 1978

N
ew York—Jesse Parrish, the singer-songwriter and guitarist, died on the night of June 22nd. He was 31 years old. Police said Mr. Parrish was killed when the car he was driving veered off the road and into a ravine in the Catskill Mountains. His girlfriend, Marion Washington, was in the passenger seat. Ms. Washington suffered severe injuries and has been transferred to the intensive care unit of a Manhattan hospital, where she remains unconscious. Mr. Parrish was pronounced dead at the scene. The county coroner's office has ruled it an accident.

Mr. Parrish, who is perhaps best known for his 1970 album
Motel Television,
had been separated from his wife, fashion designer Linda West, for nearly a year. He had struggled in the past with drug addiction. In recent months, however, he had temporarily left his home in Los Angeles and was staying at the upstate New York studio of producer Charlie Flintwick in order to record a new album and mount a comeback. “He was in great shape and in good spirits,” said Mr. Flintwick. “He'd surfaced. He was up.”

Fans have already flocked to the roadside where the accident occurred, creating a makeshift memorial. They expressed further dismay over reports that the recordings Mr. Parrish was making have disappeared from Mr. Flintwick's property. “Your guess is as good as mine,” said Mr. Flintwick. “Jesse was something of a myth when he was alive. I suppose he's going to be a legend now.”

Mr. Parrish is survived by his wife, Ms. West, and their four-year-old daughter, Lee.

There were many ways
Lee tried to obscure the fact that she came from money, but flying coach wasn't one of them. She'd done it, once, in a kind of defiance of her mother, only to realize that her small act of rebellion meant little to anyone but herself and wasn't worth the lack of leg room. She took for granted luxuries like this, but she saw how they excited Viv. How her new—newish—friend took to the spacious first-class window seat like a just-crowned queen, poised but nervous.

“The good thing about being a catastrophist,” Viv was saying, “is that it makes me get everything in order, in case anything happens.”

“You mean, like, if we crashed?”

“Right, or if the house gets broken into while we're away. Or, you know, if there's an earthquake when we get to California.”

“What do you even need to get in order?”

“Things.”

“Things?”

Viv frowned, though she loved being drawn out.

“My journal. I have to make sure it's in a safe yet accessible place. Not like anyone would want to read it.”

But you write in it as though you imagine someone will,
thought Lee,
who didn't exercise any preflight precautions—didn't plan for the worst, didn't unplug toaster ovens or check the stove and the faucets. She simply got on planes. Viv at nineteen was already thinking in posthumous terms. Lee, twenty-one, was thinking in terms of . . . what? Lee suspected Viv had what amounted to ambition, something she either didn't have, or more likely, couldn't admit to, for reasons she didn't want to dwell on. They were going to Los Angeles.

“Have you ever been in an earthquake?” she asked Viv. When Lee had come east for college, she'd fielded countless variations on that question. What was it like to live in a place with fault lines, no seasons, just sun? She would come up with something to say but she could never explain exactly what it meant, to grow up in L.A.

“Once,” said Viv. “At a seafood restaurant in Maine, this place my family would go every summer. Checkered red-and-white oilcloths on the tables, buoys and lobster trawls on the walls, that kind of thing. My dad starts getting annoyed and tells my brother to stop shaking the table but then you could see, on the wall, this swordfish. Its nose had been pointed up and now was pointed down. Anyway, it turned out the epicenter had been in Quebec, and the seismic waves were weak by the time they reached New England, so it was basically just a quick ripple.” That look again on Viv's face:
Why do I say these idiotic things to you?
But really it was a look within a look:
You want to hear these things.
And Lee did. She wanted to hear how Viv had parents who took her on vacations where they stayed at tidy motels, walked through paths of brambles to get to a rocky beach, and ate oyster crackers out of cellophane packets while waiting for their dinner to arrive in shallow plastic baskets. Viv could tell her the most mundane stories and Lee would find a point in them.
I know this about you and you know that about me.

Viv had laid her winter coat across her lap, twisting her hands into it.

“You know there's a closet where we can put that.”

“Oh, right. Of course.”

“Sorry. That sounded really condescending.”

“No, it's okay.”

Viv handed over the large wool blazer, in black watch plaid, a dingy menswear label sewn by the collar. Lee had made her try it on at the thrift store. When they'd gone shopping, Lee had taken an armful of prospects off the rack while Viv had seemed at a loss, holding on to a seventies ski parka that looked a lot like the one she came in with. Lee insisted on the blazer. It didn't completely hide, as most of Viv's clothes did, her hourglass figure, and the deep blue and green flattered her complexion, bringing out the auburn notes in her hair. She looked instantly more grown up. Lee wasn't going to encourage her to start smoking, but this she could get behind. A way for Viv to present as a little less plain, even as Lee understood that plainness was Viv's cover, in a sense. Part of a deflecting modesty that downplayed her quiet but firm sense of self. What Lee wouldn't have minded having a little more of.

“I don't know how warm it'll be,” said Viv.

“Wear a sweater under it. You'll be fine.”

“Won't it clash with things? It's not very practical.”

“It's great on you!”

“You think?”

“Get the fucking coat.”

Viv had found a way to wear it just about every day since.

Lee passed it to the flight attendant with a theatrically underplayed smile and nod that she immediately regretted as something
her mother would do. When she told Viv about Linda, Lee was never sure if she was trying to impress her or warn her, or both.

Former model, famous widow, Linda used to arrive at airports to a handful of photographers waiting for a glimpse of her at the gate: dark hair, bangs to her eyelashes, gauzy white tops or tight black knits, braless on occasion. Men and women alike were drawn to her. Women wanted to look like her, and so began the Linda West label: slinky dresses and high-waisted trousers in the seventies, bodysuits and blazers in the boxy eighties, and now the baggy, deconstructed pieces of the nineties. More than one magazine profile had used the word “timeless” to describe Linda's allure. An extremely expensive French handbag had been named for her, inspired by her
je ne sais quoi
. She had once been in a commercial that showed her prepping for a photo shoot, carrying her namesake satchel to a lunch meeting, assessing fabric samples in her office, and then coming back to an empty foyer a little lonely and forlorn, until she heard a girl's voice calling out “Mom!” Lee couldn't remember what the ad was for. It wasn't her voice and it wasn't their house.

Out Viv's window: a gray sky, slush on the tarmac. Lee watched luggage get tossed into the cargo hold as other passengers pressed their way into the plane. One of them stopped short to take the seat across the aisle. A youngish man who did a subtle double take as if he knew her from somewhere. He carried a just-beat-up-enough leather bag. His hair looked as if he hadn't washed it in a day or two, likely courtesy of some expensive product, to make you wonder what might be keeping him from shampoo. He glanced at his seat and then back at Lee. For a second, she thought he might ask if Viv wouldn't mind trading places and she wished Viv were a stranger who would get up and move. And then she felt terrible for thinking that. But he just said, “How's it going?” and sat down.

“Good,” she said. “How're you?”

“Not bad. Can't say I'm the biggest fan of flying, though.”

“No?”

“I'll be all right.”

“You sure?”

He smiled as if he found her naïveté refreshing. Viv didn't kick her foot or anything, but Lee could sense her observing the interaction intently. Journal material.

“What?” Lee said, turning back to her.

“Nothing,”

Seeing the slight hurt on her friend's face, Lee leaned her head on Viv's shoulder in a show of apology and affection. Something of a show for the man across the aisle, too.

Sometimes it felt to Lee that Viv had been standing in a crowded room, looking around and waiting, and Lee had come up and taken her hand and off they went. It looked as if one was leading the other, but when you take someone by the hand, you're also holding on.

“Let's get drinks,” said Lee.

“Is that a thing we should do?” Viv was taken with the novelty of it.

“It's definitely a thing we should do.”

“White Russians?”

A joke, but not. Who orders a White Russian? Viv did when Lee took her to a dank place in downtown Providence, not too far from College Hill but far enough. Students, mostly, and the occasional thirty-something nodding solemnly in the back. The bartender, a woman just a few years older, had looked askance at Lee—
Who is this girl in your charge and wouldn't she rather be at an ice cream parlor?
So Lee asked for one too, though Kahlúa made her ill. The club's owner, a local fixture, meaty, pushing sixty, Hawaiian shirt over a black tee,
told them he liked their style. “Nobody ever comes to this shithole for cocktails!” They came for a sweaty assault of noise. “Not my kind of music,” he said. “But you kids need a place to play.”

The man across the aisle had now taken out a book, but he wasn't really reading. Lee didn't recognize the title or the author, but Viv did. Viv started talking, leaning across, saying how
devastating
the book was, but, like, in the
best
way.

“Yeah, it is pretty bleak,” he said. “But funny. At least, that's what it says here on the back.” Eyeing Viv, but not saying it for Viv. So Lee laughed a little and he gave her another smile, not
How young you are,
but one that said,
We're in the same place at the same time.

“Well, I read it for a class last semester actually,” said Viv, “so I don't know, maybe it's one of those, like, texts that you can get into analytically and endlessly interpret so you wind up thinking it's more than it is? You know what I mean?”

“I'm not sure I do,” he said. “But I think my ex thought the same thing about me.”

Speaking to Viv again while waiting for Lee to laugh. And she did. She burst out with it, an uncorking, and Viv caught it. The pair of them, not even sure what they were laughing about, to the point of losing their breath, finally containing themselves when the captain came on, ordering seatbelts fastened. Had it become obnoxious? Lee turned to the man. “I'm sorry. I don't know what that was.”

“No, you have a great laugh. You laugh with your whole body.”

Lee had heard versions of that line before, but they had never had such an effect on her, had never left her like this, blushing, feeling exposed. Alive. It wasn't really because of him, she knew. It had more to do with Viv sitting there next to her, hearing it. Some sort of alchemy happened when they were together. Everything was transformed.

BOOK: The Sun in Your Eyes
2.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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