Brave Enough To Cry
©Mike Finn 2006
All the stations are playing Jonathan’s songs today. MTV play his three best videos once an hour back-to-back and then flip between a rockumentary of the “Lubed and Loaded” tour and a making-of-the-video for his single, “Now I know why Viagra is blue”.
I’m at the can’t stage: can’t sleep, can’t cry any more, can’t stop thinking about him, can’t forgive him for dying.
What the fuck am I supposed to do now?
Grieve and move on, that’s what my mother would say. She has always moved on easily. She never told me that grieving could be so hard. I’m locked behind a wall of glass, deafened by echoes of my pain and loss.
Then the song comes on. The only one we ever wrote together. The one everyone thinks is about how we met, but is really about how we would have liked to have met.
I told Jonathan that he’d never sell the song unless he changed the title and half of the lyrics. “You can’t expect MTV to play a song called, ‘She dresses pure country, but she fucks like rock n roll‘” I said.
He just raised an eyebrow and said, in his best British officer-class voice, “Who could possibly object to a song with the word ‘Pure’ in the title?”
It took me months before I realized that I was the one being naive. The song went to number one in the UK the week that the BBC banned it and became so popular in the US that MTV played it under the title “Pure Country” and dubbed over the bits it couldn’t stomach.
I turn up the sound and give my full attention to the TV. There we are, young and beautiful in the way that only a skilled camera man and a lighting crew can make you. The sight of Jonathan, lean and dangerously handsome, takes my breath away. He’s the leather-clad bad boy and I’m the cowgirl of your dreams. There’s no way to tell that he went to Sandhurst or that I grew up in NYC. The attraction between us is so obvious and so physical that the words of the song seem mild in comparison.
Jonathan has, damn – I will NOT cry – Jonathan had a singing voice as distinctive as Springsteen’s or Cobain’s: not good, not trained, but potent and unique and impossible to forget. When he sang, that my-family-have-served-in-the-Guards-for-generations voice disappeared and someone proudly humble, soulfully aggressive and irresistibly sexual emerged. Add in the icy-blue eyes, the thick dark hair and the beautifully asymmetrical face and you have yourself an icon.
I pull my knees up under my chin, close my eyes and lose myself in his voice and our lyrics.
I was drinkin in a roadhouse
Saw her dancin ‘cross the floor
My eyes just couldn’t leave her
She made my skin feel raw
With a smile on her lips
and a swayin of her hips
She was dressed pure country
But I knew she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll
Yeah she was dressed pure country
But I wanted to fuck like rock ‘n roll
The nearest Jonathan had ever been to a roadhouse was watching Patrick Swayze movies but when he sang the words, you believed in him. That was the thing, I always believed in him, even when I knew I shouldn’t.
My foot got to tappin
My heart picked up the beat
I knew she was the woman
That God sent me to meet.
Had a smile on my lips
And my eyes on her hips
She was dressed pure country
But I hoped she’d fuck like rock ‘n roll
Yeah she was dressed pure country
But I needed to fuck like rock ‘n roll
Jonathan was an atheist but he couldn’t resist roping God in on his side. “God is on the side of the big battalions” he’d say, imitating his father. Then he’d grin and say, in a phony cockney accent, “Wanna see me battalion, pretty lady?” I smile at the thought of him and choose to ignore the tear that is rolling down my cheek
So I took her in my arms
‘n span her ‘cross the floor
She blushed when I touched her
But I could see she wanted more
From the smile on her lips
And my hands on her hips
The blushing bit is true. Jonathan could light me up just by brushing his thumb along my forearm. When he kissed me, standing behind me, pulling my shoulders back against his chest, lowering his mouth onto my neck, I understood what it meant to be consumed by lust.
I said, you look pure country
She said, I fuck like rock n roll
So I undressed pure country
And we fucked like rock n roll
Yeah we fucked like rock n roll
I’ve been asked so many times, usually by fat men with cameras in their pudgy hands, “What does it mean, Carol – to fuck like rock n roll?” It used to annoy me. It never bothered Jonathan, he’d just smile at the guy, lean over close as if about to share a secret, and say quietly, “Ask your wife to explain it to you.”
No one ever had to explain it to us. When we were together, sex was the backbeat of our lives, constantly present in every glance, every fleeting touch. When we were alone together, the guitar riffs would start and my blood would sing, clothes would be flung off, limbs would tangle and then he’d be in me or I’d be on him and it was like jamming: picking up a song you knew and seeing where the two of you could take it that it hadn’t been before. You both play and you both listen and you both look in each others eyes and you need to smile so bad that you can’t help but pump up the volume.
The first time we met was in a recording studio in London. He was standing alone in the booth, eyes closed, ‘phones on, stepping up to the mike like a lover. Even before I heard his voice I liked the tall, lean intensity of him. Then I heard him singing “Brave enough to cry”, a cappella and I was hooked.
Of course everyone knows the song now, in the past six months it has become an anthem, but it was the first time I’d heard it and even a cappella, his soft voice and vivid words were enough to drag me with him, riding the adrenalin rush of battle, to the brink of a decision.
He sang with his eyes closed and his arms stretched down at his sides, rising on the balls of his feet and twisting his shoulders as he pressed his mouth against the mike, physically pushing emotion into the air. I wanted to reach through the glass of the sound-booth and touch him.
When his voice opened up to almost a shout on “Are you strong enough to win?” I wanted to shout “YES!” I felt powerful and triumphant and proud, just as he meant me to.
Then he tipped my mood with a key change, dropping me hard onto the spiked point of his song, the question that on another’s lips could have been a challenge or a rebuke but from him felt like an encouragement: “Are you brave enough to cry?”
The verses that followed replaced adrenalin with sorrow and each chorus asked me if I was brave enough to cry. I realized that he wanted me to ask myself if I had the integrity and the moral courage to deal with the consequences of being victorious in battle.
It seemed to me a very un-American question: “Are you sure you can cope with winning?”
I responded to the passion with which the question was asked: I wanted to be brave enough although I wasn’t sure what it meant.
By the time Jonathan opened his eyes, mine were moist with tears.
When he realized I’d been watching him, he smiled and said, “Bloody hell, Carol, we’ve not even met yet and I’ve already made you cry. What a way to start a partnership.”
Then his manager was there and the room was full of people and introductions and contract discussions and planning but in the back of my head I kept hearing him say “What a way to start a partnership.” and every time I heard it, I smiled.
As far as our agents were concerned, the ‘partnership’ was for me to do a duet on one of the tracks on Jonathan’s first album. It would give him an edge in the US market and it would help my back-catalogue. Except that Jonathan’s tracks were so full of Jonathan that I didn’t fit into any of them.
By the end of the second day, tempers were fraying all around us but Jonathan kept his cool and he kept looking at me. His look said that we shared a secret, he and I; he just hadn’t told me what it was yet.
When my manager was ready to pull the plug and his manager was ready to say good riddance, Jonathan said, “What we need is a new track so why don’t you all bugger off and let me write one.”
He didn’t shout, didn’t even raise his voice but there was a tone of command, just slightly softened by a suggestion of amusement, that made everyone want to do what he said. The managers murmured about temperamental talent and shook their heads but we all got up to leave.
“Not you, Carol,” Jonathan said. “This track will only work if we write it together.”
If it had been any one else I’d have assumed he was hitting on me: “Come spend a few hours alone in a sound-proof room – we’ll write a song.” Yeah, right! But Jonathan looked like he meant it, and anyway I had no objection to being hit on by Jonathan, so I waved my people away and he and I were alone together for the first time.
Jonathan stood with his back to the door everyone had just left through, leaning against it, his hands behind his tight little ass, his head tilted back and his eyes half closed. In T-shirt and jeans, with his hair in a mess and two day’s stubble on his chin, he looked ravishing. Sitting in my chair, looking up at him, I wanted to push my hands up under his shirt and feel the smooth hardness of his chest, bite his long neck, press my breasts against him, then slide down, rip open his jeans, take him in my mouth and tease him until he begged for mercy.
Jonathan opened his eyes and grinned at me. For a moment I thought he could read my thoughts. I may even have blushed.
He pushed off from the door and leant over me with his hands on the arms of my chair.
“So, Carol,” he said. “Do you know what we need to do now?”
Whatever he needed I was ready to give it to him. My mouth had gone dry and I didn’t trust my voice so I tilted my head to one side in a way that I hoped would look provocative.
“We need,” he said, leaning close enough that I could have traced the smile forming on his lips just by extending my tongue, “to eat.”
I didn’t have time to decide if I was disappointed or amused, Jonathan pulled me out the chair by my wrists and dragged me behind him towards the door.
“I’m so hungry my stomach thinks my throat’s cut,” he said pulling me level with him so that we had to squeeze out the door together and somehow his hand was on my hips and my arm was around his waist. We held each like that as we walked along the street to an Indian restaurant. The owner greeted Jonathan like a brother.
“I’ve been here a bit,” Jonathan said, “and it helps that I speak a little Bangla.”
Seeing the blank look on my face, he explained that Bangla was the Bengali language and he’d learned it when he’d lived there for a few years during his teens.
“I fell in love with all the best Bengali things: the poetry, the food and the women.”
He was holding my hand as he said this. That wasn’t as stereotypically romantic as it sounds. Traditional Bengali food is eaten with the fingers and Jonathan had come around behind my chair to show me how it was done. Having him bending over me from behind like that made all sorts of images flash through my head and every one of them made me hungrier for Jonathan.
“You put your left hand flat on your thigh like this,” he’d said, putting it in place. “Good.”
Good? Good! Touching my own thigh had just turned me into a puddle and all he could say was ‘Good’. Did he think I was a Labrador or something?
“Now use your right hand to pick up some rice, like this. Lean forward. Now take it into your mouth.”
His fingers were around mine as the food came up to my mouth. I wanted to suck them in and not let them go.
“What did you like about Bengali women?” I asked, trying to distract myself.
“Well, they have long slim necks,” he said, running his left thumb up my neck.
“Fine cheekbones.” His thumb continued to trace his words on my skin.
“High, broad foreheads.” The back of my head was pushed back against his belly.
“And they hold their backs straight.”
Both his hands were on my shoulders, pulling them back a little, lifting my breasts. I closed my eyes and left my head resting against his belly.
“Were they good in bed, your Bengali Ladies?”
Jonathan laughed and went back to his chair. I felt as if I’d suddenly been pushed away from the fire on a cold night.
“I was only fourteen years old,” Jonathan said. “So I never got to find out. But you can imagine how much I wanted to.”
I spent a couple of seconds imagining what Jonathan would look like when he really wanted a woman.
“Perhaps, I should pretend to be Bengali?”
“Did I mention that I have a thing for cowgirls?”
“Is it a big thing?”
“For the right cowgirl.”
This time I knew that I’d blushed.
I devoted myself to my food for a while and pretended not to notice that Jonathan was watching me with a grin on his face.
When my plate was clear, I looked up and he was still watching me.
“So, Carol,” he said, taking hold of my hands across the table. “Do you know what we need to do now?”
“Yes,” I said. “I do.”
Twenty minutes later we were in his hotel room.
We didn’t speak and we didn’t make it to the bed. As soon as the door closed we faced each other and started to undress.
Jonathan’s skin was smooth and pale and almost completely hairless. His erection left no room for doubt about his excitement.
When men see me naked for the first time their eyes are normally on my breasts. I have good breasts. Jonathan’s eyes never left my face. My eyes went everywhere. I couldn’t stop smiling.
I let him pull me close to him, then I started to slide down his body, ready to taste him.
He grasped the tops of my arms and pulled me back up.
“That’s not where I want your mouth just now,” he said.
Then he kissed me and stopped the world.
It sounds nuts but I’d never been kissed like that before. This wasn’t a prelude to something or a substitute for something. It was concentrated, 100%-proof desire.
He had to bend down to kiss me and at first only our mouths were touching. His lips were soft and mobile, moving rapidly across my mouth then settling into a slow firm contact. He put his arms around me, pressing me up on to my toes until I was stretched against him. Even with his erection pressing against my belly, it was his mouth that I wanted more of. I put my hands around his head and we breathed one another in.
Jonathan broke the kiss but didn’t release me. He looked into my eyes, searching for something. Then he grinned, said “Hang on tight, cow girl,” reached down and lifted me up onto his erection.
He told me later that he’d seen Patrick Swayze do that move in “Roadhouse” and had always wanted to try it.
I brought my legs up around his hips, he held his hands on my buttocks and just slipped into me, smooth and hot and slow and so fan-fucking-tasticly hard that I couldn’t breathe. Then he turned us both around, pressed me up against the door of his hotel room and fucked me.
We banged against the door so hard everyone in the hotel must have heard us but I didn’t care because he was in me and on me, touching me with his hands and his tongue, until there was nothing left but me and him and the fire we both fed. What I remember most is the delight I saw in his eyes as he pressed into me. It made me feel beautiful.
I came noisily, digging my nails into his shoulders. He grinned and pinned me to the door until I was done. He pulled out of me, his erection still swaying in front of him and led me to the bed. With a smile he lay back, put his hands behind his head and said “Mount up, cow girl.”
I love being on top, especially when I’m already wet and I want to control the pace. I decided to give Jonathan the ride of his life. Straddling him I felt powerful and sexy but still hungry. I was always hungry for Jonathan. Riding him, summoning his desire, releasing my own, filled me with inexhaustible unashamed pleasure.
The next day we went back to the studio together and wrote “Pure Country” although Jonathan always maintained that it was already written in sweat in that hotel room and we’d just transcribed a fair copy.
For the next six month’s we were inseparable. We made the video together. Then I went on the “Lubed and Loaded” tour with him. We finished each show with a performance of “Pure” and then found somewhere private to remind ourselves how to fuck like rock and roll. The tour was sold out, the album had been in the charts for months and we were still so hot for each other that it was like being on drugs only without the crash afterwards.
But the crash came in the last week of the tour. I woke to find that Jonathan had left our hotel bed in the middle of the night. I shouldn’t have been worried, Jonathan did that sometimes. “I’m going for a walk,” he’d say, as if we were at some English country house and not in the centre of an American city where only the poor and the brave walk at night. But as soon as I woke I knew something was wrong.
I’d sensed the wrongness while we were fucking before sleep. I’d known that Jonathan was wired and I’d wanted to soothe him. I’d intended a nice slow blow job or maybe just me riding him, my hands in his, him taking my weight, me squeezing him inside me until he had to push up deep and spill. We’d done that often and what I loved most about it was the way he’d smile at me afterwards.
This time Jonathan hadn’t smiled. He’d let me straddle him but he’d kept his eyes closed. He wasn’t very hard and I thought maybe he needed some encouragement so I’d swung off him and bent down to take him in my mouth.
I worked him for a while and things got better but when I said “Come on, Baby” and moved to straddle him again he rolled me over, pushed into me and help me tight, his face pushed into the pillow over my shoulder.
He ground me into the bed, not saying anything, not lifting his head, not doing anything except working his hips more and more frantically as if coming was something he was driven to. Afterwards he clung to me for a few seconds then he rolled off and turned onto his side with his back to me.
I waited for him to speak, to tell me what was wrong, but there was only a heavy silence that eventually led to sleep. Except he hadn’t slept; he’d left me alone in our bed. I wondered briefly if he’d left me altogether. Then I went to look for him.
He was sitting, cross-legged and naked, in the huge marble shower room. He had a joint in his hand and his eyes were empty. It looked as though he’d been crying.
I knelt in front of him, stroked his face and waited for him to come back.
“Sorry ’bout before,” he said, waving the joint in the direction of the bedroom. “Things in my head. Bad things. They leak sometimes.”
I took his hand in mine. “Wanna tell me about it?”
“Remember, ‘Brave enough to cry’?”
“It’s about Iraq.”
Jonathan’s publicist had made sure that everyone knew. The image of the handsome and sensitive Lieutenant Jonathan Ball riding into battle with his guitar strapped to his tank and composing songs in the desert made good copy.
“No. You don’t.”
“So, come back to bed and tell me”
Made pliant by the weed he let me lead him to bed. I thought at first he’d fallen asleep because he lay on his back, eyes closed and said nothing. Then quietly, as if he didn’t want to admit he was speaking, he told me his war stories, the ones that haunted him, the ones even his songs couldn’t exorcise.
He’d done nothing wrong, nothing beyond being a soldier in war. People die in wars. Women die. Children die. We all know that. But what most of us don’t know and what Jonathan couldn’t forget, is what it feels like to enter a just-shelled village and find only women and children, most of them dead or maimed, the survivors too shocked even to shout at the soldiers of the army that had shelled them.
I held his hand while he talked. He ended in the clipped tones I’d heard his father use. “Shouldn’t have been a target. Bad intel. No one’s fault. Bloody mess. Crying shame.”
I’d never understood what crying shame meant until I watched Jonathan that night.
When the flow of words stopped, I wrapped myself around him until I knew that he slept. Only then did I let myself cry.
Shit. I didn’t want to summon that memory. I wanted to think about the way he grinned as he undressed, the way his forearms flexed when he played guitar, the way he would impersonate his father and say, “We’ve been supplying the Army with Balls for generations, my dear.” Instead I remember how all the bad shit started.
Jonathan was high for most of the last week of the “Lubed and Loaded” tour. He’d always smoked to help him get mellow. That week he was so “mellow” I was amazed he could remember the words to his songs. He was too fried to have sex, although we tried once or twice.
When the tour ended I persuaded him to take some time out. We rented a house near St. Remy in the South of France and for a while, Jonathan came back to me.
It was my first time in France and I didn’t speak the language. Jonathan was fluent in French, right down to the Gallic shrugs and the hand waving, and he took pleasure in showing me the area. He knew where Van Gough had sat to paint, where the best vineyards where, what food to eat. He wasn’t showing off, just sharing his delight.
One of those delights was a slower; more sensual approach to sex that was less about frantic penetration and fierce release and more about continuous, pervasive arousal. I’ve always taken an athletic approach to sex, enjoying wrestling with my need, climbing and sliding and squeezing my way to pleasure. That summer, Jonathan taught me about stillness and surrender and serenity.
The lessons started late one sunny afternoon. I was lying naked on the huge old bed, high off the ground, gently glowing in the heat of Jonathan’s attention. He had arranged me, face-down, on the cool white linen, lifting and tying my hair, parting my legs so that they didn’t touch, even at the top and then telling me to close my eyes and lay still. Then he stood back and watched the afternoon sunlight, filtered through ancient green shutters, dappling my skin. He made me wait until I was almost certain that he had left or fallen asleep. Then I smelt the lavender oil and felt the first firm touch of his fingers on the back of my legs.
Jonathan worked naked, straddling me so that he could massage my shoulders and back with all his strength. After a time, he started to sing slow gentle wordless tunes that set the rhythm for his hands and my pleasure. I melted like candle wax in the flame of slow-burning arousal Jonathan lit.
When I was so relaxed I had abandoned all thought, Jonathan let his erection touch me. He brought my legs together, holding them in place with his knees on the outside of my thighs, and then slid between my oiled thighs until his cock was snug against my sex. His hands worked my neck and shoulders while all his weight pressed on my hips, pinning me to the bed, but never penetrating me. I stretched and twisted and squirmed under him until his belly was slick from the oil off my buttocks but still he would not enter me. So I lay still, focused all my attention on the places where he touched me and waited.
Jonathan traced my spine from neck to tail with his thumbs, then firmly pushed my buttocks apart. I think I said, “Please.” I know I was thinking it. When his hands slipped over my hip bones and held them like handles, I let him pull me up onto all fours, still with my ass pressed against his belly.
He bent over me, one hand working my back, the other stroking my belly, sliding down over my mound until his fingers could spread my long labia and let him in. Jonathan entered me with one long slow push of hard heat that filled my senses, blanking out everything except the desire for more.
I pressed back, skewering myself on him, daring him to hold my hips and hammer away at me, hard enough to bruise, long enough to rip a climax from me. Jonathan wrapped one strong arm around my hips and used his other hand to pull my head back by the hair until my back was completely straight.
“Stay absolutely still, Carol. Now squeeze me as hard as you can.”
My consciousness shrank until I was nothing more than the muscles contracting around him. I squeezed so hard that I was breathless.
“Good. Now release.”
Letting go sent a ripple of soft pleasure through me.
“Now do it again.”
I grunted with effort and squeezed tight and fast, feeling the shape of him in my mind.
With each squeeze and release my arousal grew. When Jonathan finally spurted inside me it was as if all the tension, all the lust, all the heat, rushed through me from my belly to my head and I slipped into blackness.
I woke slowly. My body seemed to float. My mind was mellow.
“Welcome back,” Jonathan said.
“I blacked out.”
“That’s never happened to me before.”
“Would you like it to happen to you again?”
There was a hint of amusement in Jonathan’s voice.
“Yes.” I said, pulling his head down onto my neck, “But not right now. Right now I’m too…
“…shagged-out to move?”
A very Jonathan expression for a very Jonathan reaction.
“That’s OK,” he said, “but move your arse over a bit so that I can lie beside you.”
His arms were around me and sleep was pulling at me but with the last of my energy I asked: “Where did you learn to do that?”
“Play women the way you play your guitar.”
Jonathan moved his mouth close to my ear.
“It’s not like that,” he said, still sounding relaxed. “It’s not a performance. It’s more like writing a song.”
“Can we write another song tomorrow?”
“You and me darlin’, we’re gonna write an album.”
Smiling, I slipped into sleep.
My memory of the rest of that summer is of a series of liquid afternoons that flow into one another, powered by Jonathan’s relentless desire.
Looking back, that summer in France was the only time that I was the most important thing in Jonathan’s life. Before that, music had often muscled me out of the way and after that, well after that everything just turned to shit.
I blame the President and that bitch from CNN for most of it.
When we got back to New York, the news was full of speeches from our beloved leader, pushing for a war in Iran to take people’s minds off the war in Iraq. It did something to Jonathan. I saw it in his face: something inside, something that had been wound up real tight had snapped and he wasn’t quite Jonathan anymore. He would shout at the TV when the President was speaking. It was like every speech was a personal attack on Jonathan. Then the dreams came back and after the dreams, the drugs.
I tried to distract him, to bring him back to lavender oil and sunshine, but I couldn’t get through. I knew he was writing, but he wouldn’t show me his work. He wouldn’t let me do anything. So I left.
I left him alone with his guilt-driven anger and his dreams and his words scratched into notebooks that he clutched to his chest with a passion he didn’t have for me anymore.
I left him alone.
I never meant it to be forever.
The next time I saw Jonathan he was on CNN. They’d started a new music program to try and get the attention of the 18 to 25 demographic: “Inside Tracks”, a pop-vid style bio doc inter-cut with sound-byte interviews with song-writers speaking over their current hits.
Jonathan had his act together well enough to field the first few questions from CNN’s weather-girl-disguised-as-music-critic. Then she hit him with the killer question:
“Jonathan, you’re a war hero [bright, encouraging smile] but your song, “Brave Enough To Cry” [cue song] is being seen as anti-war [furrowed brow, concerned look]. What message do you have to our brave men and women overseas? [leaning forward, cocking head to side to show listening and display best profile]”
The camera man must have scented blood because he went in for the full-face close-up. You could see the thought forming behind Jonathan’s eyes.
“I think they should be brave enough to come home.”
The interviewer-bitch knew she’d struck gold and she wanted more.
“But, Jonathan, don’t you think that they have a duty to obey their orders and defend this country’s interests?”
I’m certain that Jonathan knew what he was doing with his next answer. It was either brave or suicidal; I’m still not sure which.
“They have duty to be decent human beings. They have a duty to walk away from a war being fought to feed a weak man’s ego. They should be brave enough to come home and brave enough to remove anyone who tries to stop them.”
CNN cut the interview there but the damage had been done.
Before the end of the day there were calls for Jonathan to be deported. His album was pulled from the shelves after a couple of music stores were trashed by angry mobs.
I tried to contact him and get him to take his own advice and be brave enough to go home to the UK but he wouldn’t take my calls.
The next day he held a press conference. It’s been played so many times now it ought to have lost all impact. Except it hasn’t. For me it never will. I can summon it up just by closing my eyes: Jonathan looking like a solider, not a rock star; standing tall and straight, eyes forward, no trace of a smile. People at the back of the crowd chanting abuse. Jonathan’s too-English voice cutting through the noise, pushing out his challenge to the world.
“I was a solider. I served my country. I learnt that the bravest are not those who fire the guns but those who silence them.”
The shouting had died down. People were waiting to hear what Jonathan would say next.
He held his arms out wide, scanned the crowd slowly and said: “Show your bravery. Silence the guns. Make the politicians hear your silence.”
There was a moment, brief, precious, when everything stopped, when anything seemed possible.
When the man at the front of the crowd raised his gun, Jonathan saw him. He had time to move but he stayed still, arms outstretched, as if he was waiting, as if he had expected this all along.
The autopsy said that the bullet went through Jonathan’s heart, killing him instantly, but on film it looks as if there is still someone behind his eyes even as the force of the shot pushes him backwards.
The first time I watched Jonathan die, I was sitting alone in my hotel room, watching the live broadcast of the press conference. I didn’t shout or scream. I slid off the sofa on to my knees in front of the TV, unable to look away. I stayed on the floor, silently rocking, as broadcast after broadcast showed Jonathan dying again and again.
In a sense, I’m still kneeling on that floor six months later, hoping that if I rock hard enough for long enough I can call back that bullet. In the meantime, Jonathan has been turned into someone I don’t recognize: a martyr, a political activist, a dangerous subversive, a dead hero.
I want him back. I want him back so badly that there’s no room in my life for wanting anything else.
The world has moved on. “Brave enough to cry” is the anthem of the new peace movement. The album is back in the charts.
I am the only one still stricken by loss; unable to grieve and move on. I know that has to change.
I get up off the bed and switch off the TV. It’s time for me to deal with some unfinished business. On the morning of his press conference, Jonathan had a demo disc biked over to me. I haven’t listened to it yet. I haven’t dared.
The title of the song is scrawled in magic marker across the CD in Jonathan’s handwriting: “Running all the red lights”
For a moment, I can hear him behind me saying, “”You and me darlin’, we’re gonna write an album.” I slip the CD into the player, crank up the volume, close my eyes and listen.
A fast, loud, guitar intro that’s owes something to the “Boomtown Rats” and a lot to “Linkin Park” bursts into the room like a street brawl, followed by Jonathan’s voice, close to the top of his range, ragged at the edges, cutting into the noise of the guitar and feeding off it.
“Sometimes, when things get bad
And the world’s taken everythin’ you had
You start to drive and you don’t dare stop
Movin’s the only hope you’ve got
Fear is at your back. Hope is up ahead.
Life is in between but it feels more like your dead
So you’re running all the red lights
Yeah you’re running all the red lights
Till you get caught
Knowin’ you’ll get caught
Hopin’ you’ll get caught”
In my mind’s eye, I can see him bent over his guitar, head up, eyes closed, wanting you to feel his fear and desperation.
“Your baby’s at your side,
Full of fear her smile can’t hide
You know down deep she wants to run away
So you kick it up a gear cos you need for her to stay
Fear is on her back. She’s screaming in her head
You’d like to intervene but you can’t cos you’re dead
So you’re running all the red lights
Yeah you’re running all the red lights
Till you get caught
Knowin’ you’ll get caught
Hopin’ you’ll be caught”
I want to press eject. I want not to feel this pain. I want to know why the little shit left me.
“Even with her you’re alone
Your blood has turned to stone
But there’s no time left to weep
Death’s an appointment you must keep
Fear grips your heart. She let’s go your hand.
Your hoping when you’re dead she’ll finally understand
You can’t keep running all the red lights
Gotta stop running all the red lights
Because you’ve been caught
You know you’ve been caught
You’re glad that you’ve been caught”
Silence fills the room as the track finishes.
“Bastard. Bastard. Bastard.”
The voice shouting the word is mine but I can’t make it stop.