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Long Way Home
October 16, 2002

      The busy city streets were quiet that Monday night except for a few cars that happened to drive by every few minutes. Nearly every shop Riley walked past was closed or boarded shut, except for the occasional 24-hour deli. Every so often he'd stop and pick up a pack of cigarettes and a coke then continue on his way. He convinced himself, wherever he was going, that he'd need the nicotine and caffeine pumping through his veins to keep him steadfast on a direct route away from home.

      Riley hadn't slept in three days and had already traveled two hundred miles north from his hometown in Northern California. The last night he spent at home, his father conjured up a storm of controversy over why Riley still hadn't stopped using heroin and it had reached a point of leave or be slain. His heroin addiction began two years earlier out of sheer curiosity, but by this point in his life, it had become his sustenance and he even earned his money by selling it on street corners in Oakland. A shock ran through his head as he petted a bruise that bordered his forehead and receding hairline. The day he abandoned his now former and entrapping life, his father nailed him with an empty bottle of whiskey from ten feet away as he was getting some of his things together. His mother stood by watching the whole scene unfold with a puzzled look slapped across her face as if standing behind a concrete wall. Riley didn't think twice before leaving, he had seen this kind of shit happen before and knew that he couldn't live with his folks anymore; that he couldn't walk the thin line for them; that they had too many differences even despite his father's alcoholism and his mother's addiction to anti-depressants.

      A light breeze steadily trickled by Riley as he stopped at the corner of an intersection to light a cigarette. His hands, nose and mouth were all numb, and he shivered as he brought the cigarette up to his rosy white lips. A young woman in a black overcoat and black high heels prowled by just then and gleamed at him as he took his first drag and leaned up against a wall that had the tags of nearby gangs spray painted all over it. He began to follow her at a distance of about twenty feet for two blocks with nothing between him and the curly-haired blonde but an eerie silence. The blond woman crossed a street and then another and then another in the dark of the night. After passing a few apartment complexes, Riley followed the young woman around a street corner and up a flight of stairs with the light from the full moon illuminating the quiet city like a giant spotlight in a dark theater.

      The next morning he left the apartment room before the girl had even woken up. He looked her over one last time as he got dressed then left a small note on her nightstand that read "With you forever love. Riley." She appeared warm and comfortable, wrapped up in her bed sheets, curled up and sleeping on the right side of her full-sized bed with the sun eagerly pushing its way through the half-raised window shades behind her. Riley wanted to stay and spend more time with the girl in the comfort of their own garden of Eden, but an overwhelming sense of guilt ran through him as he stood next to her dresser staring at his pallid complexion in the mirror. After stepping over some clothes that were scattered about the floor, Riley picked up his balloons and needles from the nightstand, returned them carefully to his backpack, then regretfully left the apartment without thinking twice.

      He went down the flight of stairs that led to the street and turned the corner. Even during the winter season, the bright sunlight still hurt his eyes. His stomach growled, his head pounded. Swarms of people walked by him on the busy city street as he checked his wallet for some cash. A few glanced awkwardly at him as they passed by. One child asked her mother why Riley's skin was slightly discolored. The mother just told her daughter that it wasn't polite to stare. Riley spotted a hotdog stand not far away and began walking towards it at a somewhat leisurely pace. A bald, rotund man with a bushy moustache stood behind it. "Hi. One hot dog please."

      "Two dollars." Riley handed him a crisp fifty.

      "Do you have anything smaller?"

      "I don't think so. Let me double check." Riley took his wallet out of his jacket pocket. A tall dark man wearing a trench coat stepped in front of him. The man glanced at Riley for an instant then turned to the vendor.

      "Two hot dogs please." Riley was a bit agitated at the cheeky man's impatience with him but after some time found a five dollar bill stashed away in the inside pocket of his leather jacket that he must've forgotten about. The tall dark man wearing the trench coat walked away with his two hot dogs whistling some tune from "Guys 'n' Dolls," as Riley handed the vendor the five dollar bill. The tune reminded him of the days when he used to attend high school plays, and then of the former band that he used to jam with back in Los Angeles, Wasted Youth, who once performed on the same stage in the same high school auditorium. Then he remembered how he had always taken a quaint solace in music. The fat man handed Riley his change and hot dog as other customers eagerly approached the stand.

      After finishing the last of his dog, Riley walked down a block, then turned right and proceeded down an alley where the tall dark man had wandered only minutes before. A pungent stench filled the air, which was only worsened by the presence of a few large rats scurrying about. Steam poured out from under two sewer covers and billowed in the passing breeze. Garbage was strewn all over the narrow alley which was only wide enough to fit one car, maybe two. Riley had to watch his step as he walked to avoid tiny puddles of cat urine. He was disgusted by it all. As he inched closer to the rotted wooden fence at end of the alley, the tall dark cheeky looking fellow appeared from behind a dark green dumpster smoking a cigarette. Riley could tell by the stern gaze and spiky grin on his face that he wasn't surprised to see him there. "I had a feeling you'd come by. So what brings you here?"

      "Do you know where I can find some smack?"

      "Are you a cop?"

      "No."

      "Then you've come to the right place my friend. I'm just returning from Iran with a fresh and cheap supply of the finest H you'll ever find. How much do you need?"

      "Just two grams." Normally he would've asked for more, but by this point in time, Riley had drastically cut back on his usage, no longer wanted to sell, and even wanted to stop altogether.

      "Alright my friend," the man began. He opened his trench coat and took out two bags of white powdered heroin. "I'll give you these two for one-hundred."

      Riley inspected the bags carefully, checking for any impurities, and after a thorough investigation, handed the man a fresh one-hundred dollar bill in exchange for the two bags. "Do you know where I can find a bus that'll take me to Seattle?"

      The man slipped the hundred dollar bill into one of his inside jacket pockets. "Turn right at the end of this alley, and then you go three blocks down and you see it." Riley was glad to be leaving the putrid stink of the alley behind even if he wasn't sure how accurate the man's directions were.

      Before he knew it, he was on a greyhound bus to the next city. He sat down by a window and reminisced for a while as the stage outside shifted from one set to another. Then it struck him. He needed a job, and soon. He thought of checking the local music newspapers for a "musician wanted" ad or perhaps for other musicians who wanted to start up a new band. Riley had always wanted to sing and front a band of his own but never quite had the time. But now he had all the time in the world.

      The bus continued on, farther and farther away from his home and Riley felt more and more at ease with the on-going passage of time. Half an hour had passed since Riley first got on the bus when it made its first stop. An ashen man with long dirty blond hair down to the middle of his back, ripped jeans, brown cowboy boots and a brown jacket got on. He paid the meager bus fare then continued down the aisle, carrying a rectangular black case in his right hand. After coming to the open seat next to Riley he asked, "This seat taken?"

      "Nope."

      "Then I hope you don't mind if I take it."

      "By all means, go ahead." He sat down and placed his black case in the aisle to his right.

      "I'm Jerry."

      "Riley." They shook hands.

      "So where you headed?"

      "Seattle."

      "Oh no kidding. You ever heard of a band called New Jupiter?"

      Riley shook his head. "What kind of music?"

      "It's like a mix between Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, mostly hard rock. It's the band I'm in, we're from Seattle, we play all along the west coast but our singer left the band to join some pussy alternative band. Whatever, fuck him." Jerry reached into one of his jacket pockets and took out a small business card with his band's information on it. "Here, take this. You don't happen to sing or know anyone who sings do you?"

      Riley had sung before but only as a backup vocalist for his first band, Wasted Youth, a grunge band with some metal influence. He remembered the days when he played the drums for them. Ever since, he had been developing his vocal abilities without any professional instruction by imitating the likes of Jim Morrison, Layne Staley, and Sabastian Bach in the comfortable confines of his room at home. Every Friday and Saturday night he'd take a train into Sacramento and jam with the musicians who happened to be hanging around the studios. Whenever he went, a group of guys would be waiting to jam with him as his name was highly recognized by many in the area. His voice was eerie but gentle, and he improvised vocal melodies using his powerful screams and wide range. He often received many offers from various bands asking him to sing for them. Naturally, he declined them all because none were good enough, but when Jerry told him that his band had been touring the west coast, it was as if a door had opened inside of Riley's dreamworld and he now had the opportunity to step through. He wanted this more than anything. "Yeah actually I sing."

      "You wanna come down and audition later tonight?"

      "Yeah definitely, I'll be there. What time?"

      "Alright, just go to the address on the card. Be there at 8pm sharp." The bus slowly came to an unanticipated stop facing an abandoned, run-down gas station. "This is my stop, it was nice meeting you."

      "Nice meeting you too." Jerry picked up his guitar and got off the bus. Riley looked back out the window as the bus gradually started to move again. He felt a change come over him and suddenly everything in the world seemed perfect again. Just like childhood. All he could do was laugh quietly to himself, and smile as he stared at the trees outside that looked as though they were just passing by amidst a heavy breeze.

      Later that night Riley took a cab to the address listed on the card Jerry gave him; a house in a residential neighborhood. Once again, the full moon-along with a few lampposts scattered about--lit the streets as he stepped out of the cab and onto a sidewalk covered in reds, browns, oranges and yellows of the fall season that had just passed. Riley figured this looked like a good place to have a studio. He walked up the steps leading to the front door and rang the bell. A bird chirped. A phone rang in a nearby house. Jerry opened the door. "Yo what's up man? Come in." Riley walked into the house, past the kitchen, following Jerry into the studio. The studio was separated into two rooms by a large window: One room was the rehearsal area, a large open space save for the band's equipment, a leather couch and t.v., larger than any of the rehearsal rooms he had previously worked in, and the other was a room full of recording equipment. Riley looked through the window and into the recording room. Sitting on one table, he could see a state of the art mixing board, a digital recording unit, a 32-track reel-to-reel analog recorder, and on the table beside it sat a computer, a PA system, an equalizer, a stack of effects processors. Directly to his left and in front of him the other members of the band were sitting on a black leather couch drinking beers and watching VH1. A few tie-died sheets were draped from the ceiling and all sorts of colorful Persian and Indian rugs decorated the otherwise bare and gray concrete floor.

      "That's Crazy Mike, he plays rhythm guitar, Dave over there plays the four string and Marty here is our kickass drummer. Guys, this is Riley." The guys on the couch said their respective hellos. Jerry turned to Riley as he handed him a microphone. "You ready to kick some ass?"

      The bassist interjected. "Wait hold on. Jerry, you said this guy didn't do drugs."

      "Yeah, that's what I said."

      "Are you blind man? This guy's a heroin addict, just look at him! I'm sure if you asked him to roll up his sleeves you'd see track marks. No offense, but we don't want third-class druggies singing for us. Sorry, you're gonna have to leave."

      Riley just nodded his head. "Alright," he said, then turned to Jerry. "Thanks anyway man."

      Once outside and in the bitter cold of the winter night, Riley could do nothing but reminisce of his early childhood days; the sweet innocence, pure bliss and tender happiness all came pouring back into his mind as vivid scenes of just yesterday. He stared at the full moon longingly then muttered to himself, "At least I still have you friend. At least I still have you."