Of the remainder of our journey, I can tell you very little. I'm sure we passed some magnificent scenery, but the pain in my back and the confusion in my head occupied most of my senses.
Jess switched from recording video to interviewing me on audio. With so many hours to pass, she managed to get me to recapitulate my entire life for her. I'd told most of the stories before, so I was able to relate them on autopilot while my I ruminated on the troubling subtext.
And how dare I be so troubled? Danielle was the most amazing woman I'd ever met, and we were getting married. We were having a kid -- something I'd always desired, at least in the back of my mind. Sure, Little Miss One-Percent Contraceptive Failure Rate had come along before I was truly prepared for her, but what an adventure, and what a privilege to raise her on the family commune.
Not to mention the teenage nymphomaniac in the passenger seat. Surely that was a major perk.
But my music... It wasn't just that I was about to defer my dreams of a music career; it was that I had wasted so much of the time I'd had to pursue them while I was free to do so.
I'd blown it.
"Dave, are you OK?"
Apparently I'd stopped talking.
"Oh, yeah, I just got lost in thought." I smiled wanly.
"In mid-sentence? I didn't think guys could multitask." Jess was amused, but clearly concerned. "You were talking about such happy stuff, but you look so sad."
I didn't want to involve Jess in my existential crisis. Particularly not with the recorder going.
"It's nothing, just a random association." I wanted to make up a friend that had died around the time I was talking about, but for the life of me I had no idea what I'd been saying for the past five minutes. The last time something like that had happened, Maya had been psychoanalyzing me on our first date. I thought it had been a demonstration of her therapist's skills, but maybe it was just some odd form of self hypnosis.
I gave up the idea of keeping Jess out of the loop. She was a full partner in this triad, and I'd promised to treat her like one. Like an adult.
I confessed my fears to her -- forgetting, I realized halfway through, to ask her to turn off the recorder.
I'm not sure what kind of reaction I'd expected, but surely it wasn't the one I got.
Jess toggled off the audio recorder app.
"You know what, Dave? Fuck you."
Huh? "Excuse me?"
"A) what makes you think you can't have a music career and a kid at the same time? You're a composer. You don't have to tour with a band. And b) I'm part of this family. I'll be there to help raise the kid. If you want to tour with a band, or a show, you can do it. I can hold down the fort. Give me some fucking credit."
"You still think of me as a kid. You don't think I can't handle this. In fact, you think of me as a second kid you need to take care of. Which, considering the nature of our relationship, is pretty sick.
"All day I've been listening to your life story. You think you're pretty precocious. But I've got more life skills at 17 than you do at 31. Maybe you should be scared. Maybe you're not grown up enough to handle a kid. But don't worry, I'll be there to clean up after you, and so will Danielle."
Enough of this. "Dammit, I'm allowed to have cold feet. This is a major turning point in my life."
"That's right. It's the only grown up thing you've ever had to do. No wonder you're terrified."
She was right of course, but she was also being unfair.
"Look, I've been through a lot. You just heard about most of it. Maybe I have "failed to launch." But I have reasons. Considering some of the stuff I've experienced you should be impressed that I'm such a kind, open person. I have some positive qualities, you know."
To my own surprise, I was close to tears. And angry. It was one thing for Maya or my mother to take my inventory like this. It was another for some teenager sit in judgement of me.
"You're a nice guy, Dave. But "open"? You just told me your whole life's story and other than complaining about not getting laid, you didn't tell me how you actually felt about any of it. Well, no, that's unfair. You looked like you were going to cry your eyes out about that stuff with Holly. But you don't give much away, Dave. You're uncomfortable when people express strong emotion about you, and other than lovey-dovey stuff, you're pretty aloof.
"I love you Dave, and so does Danielle. But I'm not sure what we see in you half the time."
Every once in a while, someone decides to rip my heart and/or my ego to shreds. I was still recovering from Sam Bolton's rape of my 12 year old soul; I still had open wounds from that last talk with Maya. And now this.
I pulled over to the shoulder.
"You don't have to be a part of this if you don't want to. If you think that little of me, maybe you should bail before the really hard work starts."
She stared at me for an uncomfortably long time before her expression softened.
"I think very highly of you, Dave. You're the one with the self-esteem issues. That's why you don't give anything away. You're afraid of being judged."
"You mean like you just judged me."
"Exactly like that. And guess what, you survived. You can take it."
I wasn't so sure. My heart was pounding.
"Dave, everyone sucks. We're all fucked up and insecure and faking it 'til we make it. Which we never do. Grownups are just people who have come to terms with that, and own it, and do what little they can to make up for it."
No, this was no "kid."
"Where are you getting all this stuff? Did you go to Est or something?"
"No, but my folks did. That's where they met. They've been teaching me this stuff since I was eight years old."
I put the car back in gear and merged back onto the highway. I spent several minutes trying to assimilate what has just transpired.
Finally, I asked, "Jess, will you teach me how to be a grownup?"
"Sure, kiddo, sure."