Bare with me through this lengthy tale friends, and I’d like to believe that you won’t be disappointed. Of course, I also simultaneously believe that if you do take the time to read it in full, that you’ll be disturbed enough to possibly unfollow this blog, cancel your friendship with me via other social channels, and maybe even phone the authorities to have me taken away to a padded cell. I’ll take my chances in the name of keeping myself semi-relevant to you for another week.
If you follow me on Instagram, you likely saw a few pictures of the fantastic place I visited at the beginning of last week. A wonderfully desolate locale known as Alabama Hills. Three days there shooting what I hope we’ll be an amazing thirty second spectacle has left me with many fine tales, but it is the journey home that is the subject of this post. The roughly three or so hours spent mostly alone behind the illuminated wheel of what was formerly my mother-in-law’s RAV4, driving from Lone Pine back to Venice, on the heels of a 12 hour shoot day in the hot sun of a desert not far removed from Death Valley.
Why was I alone in the car with no co-pilot to help guide me or share the responsibility of staying awake to stay alive for one more day, despite having ample co-workers present on set with me? Simple. I had made it very clear that I’m a man who likes to drive at a reasonable speed–and a man who demands that any one driving him also mimics the cruising behaviors of a seventy-year old man. And thus, I was left to my own devices–mostly smokes, caffeine, and the earbuds snaking from my cellphone to the left and right of my brain–to keep me awake and alive on that dark journey back down CA-14.
Fifteen minutes into the trip back home, and despite my best efforts to keep up, I’d already lost sight of the four souls in the Ford blazing the trail in front of me. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll just ring Ariele and talk to her for awhile.” I spoke into my iPhone, demanded that Siri ring the Mrs., and believe it or not even my low grumble from time to time results in Siri’s obedience. The phone rang, but alas, Ariele was unavailable to pick up the phone. I left a message, recorded via her voice mail what I surmised might be my last known location on the map and pulled off to what I thought might be the last gas station for quite some time.
In my haste to grab a beverage from the station’s market, I left my phone on the passenger side seat of the RAV4. So when Ariele called me back, she did not find me on the other end either. But, at the moment, I was relieved–as I always am–to know that she was still alive. “I’ll phone her back in fifteen minutes or so,” I schemed. “After I’ve had a chance to drink this diet coke and burn a butt with the windows down.” And that’s precisely the plan I put into action. But, when I finally got around to phoning her again, repetitive rings followed by an almost unfamiliar recorded greeting left me unsure of exactly why we’d been unable to connect not once, not twice, but now thrice.
I didn’t bother with another message. I figured she’d not had the speed to grab the phone before it’s final ring, and was quite certain I’d be hearing back from her within minutes if not seconds. When I didn’t, I put my voice to use again and asked Siri to ring my mother. We spoke for some 40 minutes, and our conversation had certainly aided me in my quest to stay alert while not-quite-speeding down that moon-lit highway. But, in the back of my mind a kernel of concern regarding the whereabouts of my wife began to take hold. “Mom, I must let you go. I’ve got to phone Ariele.” I barked. “I’ll speak to you soon.”
I phoned Ariele again. No luck. I placed the phone back into the passenger seat and assured myself that she’d call me back as soon as she was able. “Perhaps a spot of traffic, perhaps she is consumed with playing with our cat, perhaps her phone died and she doens’t quite realize it yet.” Many logical possibilities were uttered nearly aloud by me, for me, to sooth the twisted mess of a mind that I knew might start piecing together far more heinous scenarios involving my lovely. But my efforts to keep that devious gray beast from betwixt my ears at bay were for not. And within mere moments of having finished the last drag of my umpteenth smoke the very brain that was working to keep me calm with rational thinking, began to paint three distinct possibilities–three scenarios, and only three–that with each passing mile became more and more concretely certain.
Fact: My masters had arranged an after-work cocktail shindig in at Gene Simmons’ joint in downtown El Segundo that evening. I knew this to be true, and I knew via a brief text exchange before I hit the road that Ariele had decided to go. It was a decision that had whole-heartedly delighted me prior to reaching the utterly creepy town of Mojave, CA, as I tend to take great comfort in knowing that Ari gets out and about when I’m not around. Riding into hour two of my now hypnotic journey though, that fact only served as fodder to construct those aforementioned fates.
1) Being the lightweight that she is, two drinks had been too many. (I have no idea why this woman who I know to only have typically one drink, all of the decided to have two, but dammit that’s what she’d had). And thusly, one her way back from El Segundo to the sublet we currently call home, she’d had an accident. Likely on the backroad home along the Pacific. Likely end result: She is no longer with us or horribly crippled.
2) Perhaps at some point in the three days I was away I’d said something that had been misinterpreted by her own brand of crazy as something spiteful, unappealing, or hurtful. The lives of couples frequently separated by the rigors of their profession are filled with phone conversations that walk the fine line of sadness and madness due to the additional strains of having to cope with the daily routine without your favorite companion. It was a possibility, though I could not recall any exchange that’d we’d had that had ended on a less than high note. Even so, option two had me surmising that perhaps some younger buck had wooed her, and they were off to do the devil’s business.
One and two, and they came in that order, seemed highly unlikely. And yet, I’d still received no phone call back. With these two options decidedly difficult to approve by even me, my brain focused on the third far more likely scenario.
3) Ariele had left El Segundo after not even a whole alcoholic beverage, had made it safely back to Venice, had put off calling me back while in the car as is required by the law, had parked a few feet down the road from the entrance to our cottage and while fumbling with the keys to enter the gate due to the extreme darkness of the street had been put to sleep by a chloroform soaked rag in the hand of an abduction van driving lunatic. After all, from the moment I checked into our sublet many weeks ago I was suspicious that the difficulty of working the key in the nearly faulty gate lock would allow for such a tragic event to eventually occur.
And so there it was: the most obvious ending to what come September would have been just over four years of our amazing journey together. Even as I assured myself that this was probably not at all the situation, I began to run through my own fate now that she was likely on her way to being forever tortured in a dark basement somewhere or, if I was lucky, found in a ditch a few months from now. A deep darkness descending upon my car. True, I was relived to know that there was no way that I could be blamed for foul play, with my being so very far removed from Venice that day, but with this knew knowledge I began to wonder what was next for the kid.
If I knew her to be dead, with one-hundred percent certainty, wouldn’t the next right thing be for me to intentionally drive the Rav-4 off the next available mountain cliff? And if I did, could I really be sure that the tumble the vehicle would take would end my own life instead of just leaving me permanently disfigured and facing many hardships ahead? What other options did I have? A life spent in search of my soul mate ala Kiefer Sutherland going after an almost unknown Sandra Bullock was certainly an option. Head spinning, lungs filling over and over again with the bizarre combination of my own poisonous smoke and the rush of clean desert air, it occurred to me that on the plus side–with me dead or living, the relationship we’d forged (our very existence together) might possibly be held up as legendary. Future errors and indiscretions, miscommunications and temporary set-backs were no-longer a possibility. The future, the one baking in my skull, would be filled with phrases like, “They were such an amazing pair, tragic–who knows what a love like theirs might have accomplished down the road? We can be sure of one thing, no man and woman on earth ever loved each other quite like they did–Princess Bride style love that was.”
This was the tarnished but still slightly silver lining to it all. Ironic yes, as I’d not just a few minutes early temporarily placed her with another, but I’d had to have had that thought in order to get to the truth! Before I could commit to anything brash, I decided one last text or two was necessary to remove all doubt. “Text Ariele,” I barked into the phone. After I voice texted one last request for some sort of response to relive my growing panic, I simply assumed the next text I’d receive would be from that maniac–something along the lines of, “I’ve got her. LOL.” Or maybe even, “MLOL” which would be some sort of text version of “Mooohoooohahahaha.”
A brilliantly dark curve loomed ahead–the clock was ticking, and the phone did ring. I picked up thinking, “Oh this psychopath is a brave one. Calling me back to deliver his news via his own voice. That’s some 80s type psycho-old-school shit there,” I thought just before Ariele’s voice rang out into my ear, “Hey babe. I’ve called you like four or five times. It went to voicemail, the one you’ve still not set-up, every time.”
And there it was. Ah, yes. The reality that I most often choose to forget: AT&T is shit.