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For Rob



What is hell? Hell is oneself.

Hell is alone, the other figures in it

Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from

And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.


T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party


One California / Dreaming

Two Nevada / Unremembered

Three Nevada / Unremembered, Part II

Four Home

Five Home, Part II

Six Nevada / Lust

Seven Nevada / Lust, Part II

Eight Colorado / Obsession

Nine Colorado / Obsession, Part II

Ten Nebraska / Greed

Eleven Nebraska / Greed, Part II

Twelve Iowa / Anger

Thirteen Iowa / Anger, Part II

Fourteen The Gate

Fifteen Illinois / Jealousy

Sixteen Indiana / Jealousy

Seventeen Pennsylvania / Violence

Eighteen New Jersey / Violence, Part II

Nineteen New York / Lies

Twenty New York / Lies, Part II

Twenty-One Tower / Betrayal

Twenty-Two Tower / Betrayal, Part II

Twenty-Three California / Dreaming, Part II


Thank You

About the Author




California / Dreaming

Start with the weather. Cool, calm, twenty-two degrees. Not so much weather as an absence of it. Above, the ceiling of trees breaks to reveal a solitary cloud. Then a second, floating towards the first. If you can only see one cloud, you’re not looking at enough sky.


He calls down to me, asks what I’m doing. I tell him I’m writing a book. A beam of light falls across his face. He rocks back on his heels, squints. What’s it about, he says. I try not to stare, to mumble. Grief, I say. We sit, surrounded by giant redwoods. Sun filters through a canopy of leaves. The Japanese have a word for that. I’m not Japanese. Neither is he. He draws a breath, asks who died. I did, I say. He shakes his head. Tough break, he says. He means it.


The first thing you learn about Jon Bon Jovi is that he’s very sincere.


I’m ten, riding my bike through the woods, all oak and pine and silver birch. I choose a tree with low branches, climb all the way to the top. From there I can see the whole valley. I stay for hours. When I finally get home, it’s dark out. Mum is angry, shouting. Where have you been. I blame the tree.


The sequoia is native to California, and California is a long way from London. Jon sits atop a fallen trunk as high as a house. He might be meditating. He might be hung-over. This is the forest of the mind, he says. He doesn’t open his eyes. Oh, I say. That clears it right up.


The first time I kiss her I never want to stop.


My first Bon Jovi record was Cross Road. 1994. I wore out the cassette. Jon circa Cross Road had the shorter hair, the Henley shirt, the John Lennon sunglasses. Gone was the poodle perm, the floor-length leather coat. 1994 Jon Bon Jovi was the coolest man I’d ever seen. This is that Jon Bon Jovi. The same one who’s urinating off the top of the tree trunk, his stream of hot piss narrowly missing me. He shouts down. Look out below. It’s too late.


The second thing you learn about Jon Bon Jovi is that he isn’t shy.


I’ve been in this forest once before. The one with all the redwoods. A long time ago. But this isn’t just that forest. There’s oak, pine, silver birch. All the forests I’ve known scattered in and among. All my selves. There I am, eleven years old, building a treehouse. There I am, at fifteen, getting a hand job against a tree from a girl I met on holiday. I’m too worried about ants to come. There I am at twenty-seven, walking with my future ex-wife. Here I am, thirty-two, sitting in a forest, surrounded by the flickering ghosts of my past selves. Ghosts are just echoes you can see. I write that down.


I get any piss on you, Jon says, thrusting his hips so his dick spins like a helicopter.


The first time I kiss her I never want to stop. I know she’s going to break my heart.


Set the scene. It’s a crisp autumn afternoon in a Californian forest and I have no idea how I got here. Her name is on the breeze blowing through the leaves. The sun casts long shadows of the redwoods around me, trunks as wide as thirty feet ascending far into the sky. Dust and debris float through sunbeams, catching the light like airborne glitter, rising into the canopy above. It’s heaven on earth. Except it can’t be earth, and I don’t believe in heaven. I’m pretty sure I’m dead.


You’re not dead, Jon says. He sits next to me, chewing a blade of grass he plucked from the undergrowth. Hopefully not the undergrowth he just pissed on. Piss or no, he exists with the kind of effortless cool you can’t help but envy. He speaks without looking up. What do you remember.


Her lips were so soft I gasped the first time I kissed her. I was hard the second we touched. Later, just her scent would get me hard. Before I touched her, before I tasted her. Now all it takes is the thought of her. Now all I have are memories.


Somewhere in the forest I’m eighteen, falling in love for the first time. Somewhere in the forest she’s not returning the sentiment. She already has a boyfriend, isn’t in the market for another.


Somewhere in the forest I’m missing the wood for the trees.


I say: Ketamine.

He says: Ketamine what.

I say: That’s what I remember.

He says: Why would you take Ketamine.

I say: I don’t know. I was tired. I wasn’t thinking.

He says: Well you know what they say. Hindsight is sixty-forty.


That thing you read about Ketamine curing depression. A study showed a single transfusion can lift your mood. Permanently. Plus you get a pretty great high. You can’t get the treatment in the UK. Not yet. But you can get Ketamine. Dose yourself with small amounts. And I did.


I’m ten, riding my bike through a forest. Oak, pine, silver birch. I choose one with low branches, climb all the way to the top. I can see across the tops of trees for miles around. Distant villages, church spires, rivers, smoke. I can hear birds, watch clouds. I stay for hours, only leaving when it’s too dark to see. Mum is angry. She asks where I’ve been. I blame the night. It came too early.


The truth is I didn’t know how to get down.


We’ve been silent a moment. Jon turns to me. Have you figured it out yet. I ask if I’m dreaming. Not exactly, he says. Her voice on the wind now, purring. You make me feel so good. I shut my eyes. The wind is only a light breeze. Still it stings.


Shit, Jon says. Slow to catch on, aren’t we. He casts his hands up, conducting the wind. We’re in your head, champ. Your mind. Your memories. Your imagination. All this is you.


It feels like we’re being watched. The forest shifts in front of me. In the tree line ahead, a shape moves between branches, it’s face and form unfixed, a memory I can’t place. I ask Jon if he sees it too, but by the time the words arrive it’s already gone.


I’m twenty-two, walking among redwoods, taking pictures on a disposable camera. Three weeks later I’ll get the prints back to find them washed out, blotchy. Too much sun.


Here, now, the light turns harsh, stabs through the trees. I look at Jon, spots of colour burned into my retina. I ask if I’m doing this. He stands, dusts himself off. Too much time in your head is a terrible thing, he says. I tell him we’ve only been here an hour. You’ve been here your whole life, chief, he says. He takes my hand, pulls me to my feet. I should know, I’ve been here with you.


I was born in 1983. The year John Bongiovi changed his name to Jon Bon Jovi, had his first hit with the band he named after himself. His manager, Doc McGhee, suggested the change, the band name. Bon Jovi was easier to remember, to spell. Plus, it worked for Van Halen.


My first name never fit right. Always felt too formal. I was given others, nicknames. Nothing stuck. As a kid I used to try on names for fun. Later I used pseudonyms for writing. I wanted to seem cooler, more likeable. Plus I couldn’t use mine. Not any more. After her my name was ruin.


Jon is carving his name into the trunk of the redwood. Didn’t you already piss on it, I say. He finishes, folds his knife, blows away the dust. Piss fades, he says. Names last for ever.


I stand at the base of a tree, look up. The whole thing feels like it’s falling. A trick of the mind. We can stay, Jon says. Enjoy the sunset. Or we go. There’s a road just past the edge of the forest. I look at the sun, there’s still plenty of light left. If we go, I say, will I wake up. Jon puts his hand to my forehead, the way a parent might. No promises, he says. But it beats sitting here waiting.


I wonder what would happen if one of the redwoods fell. Not my best idea. We barely manage to roll out of the way as the one in front of us topples to the ground. It takes out half a dozen others on its way, the ground rising, breaking open as roots are torn from the earth. Maybe this is a trick of the mind, too. Maybe everything here is. I guess we go, then, I say.


The first time I kiss her I never want to stop. Nothing lasts for ever.


I’m thirty-two, riding my bike through the forest with Jon Bon Jovi. We peddle hard, like every kid in an eighties’ movie. Redwoods fall. Creaking, cracking, crashing. Splinters the size of small cars shoot past. Roots rise up like walls. The forest of my mind is collapsing. I’m folding in on myself.


If a tree falls in a forest and Jon Bon Jovi is with you when it happens, is it still a figment of your imagination.


What do you remember, he says. The ground below us shakes, crumbles away. I told you, I say. We launch off upended roots, flying downhill, ducking between trunks, under branches. I didn’t ask what you took, he says. I’m quiet a moment. Working up the nerve to tell him. I tried to kill myself, I say. It comes out louder than I’d intended. I know, buddy, he says, swerving to avoid a tree. You do, I say. He nods. Yeah, I do. He looks so very cool on a BMX.


The edge of the forest is in sight. He’s slightly ahead of me, shouting. Your book. The one about grief. You should save that reveal, the whole suicide thing, for the end of the second act.


Something most people don’t know about Jon is that he’s really pretty great at narrative critique.


Something most people don’t know about me is I’ve never seen giant redwoods.


But I always say I have.


Nevada / Unremembered

We’re half a tank of gas past the edge of the desert when the drugs kick in. Somewhere beyond the boundaries of this endless expanse my body is metabolising the Ketamine. The effect is hallucinatory. The bright burn of the sunrise ahead an explosion of dancing flame, a hellfire scorching the night itself. It melts the moon from the sky, a waterfall of dust collecting on the desert floor. We’re driving straight towards the fire. I step on the gas.


I’m eight or nine walking to school, playing a game where I name every car that drives past: Ford Fiesta. Ford Escort. Ford Sierra. Just about everyone has a Ford. When I don’t know one, I turn around, read the badge. Some days I get all the way there without missing one.


My day job is I write tweets for a brand. JoeSeal. It’s a wood stain. You know, For the regular Joe. What I do with JoeSeal is I tweet vaguely philosophical statements about life from the perspective of a tin of wood stain. I want to write novels, but this is what pays the bills.


Sample tweet: You can’t protect your heart but you can protect your fence. Buy JoeSeal.


I ask Jon if Bukowski would have written tweets for a brand. You’re overthinking this, he says.


I’ve been driving through the night. We swapped the bikes for a Cadillac. A big boat of a car. The kind people are always driving in books and films. We’ve covered countless miles of blacktop, air whipping over the windscreen, damping the smell of hot rubber, gasoline.


I yawn, feel the tired ache of unstretched legs. The plains are so vast it feels like we’re surfing the horizon, ploughing along our asphalt furrow down orange strands of light. The sun is rising, turning the world a thousand colours at once, all of them golden. I’m wide awake. It’s morning.


There’s nothing for miles around, but there are billboards. Freestanding scaffolds angled to the road, selling me memories I’d rather forget. A stupid thing I said once in a muscular font, thirty feet high. A little further down the road, a billboard with her face. In the caption she’s saying she loves me. Thirty seconds later on another billboard she’s telling me she can’t do this any more.


Establish the quest. For a while I was flying above the car, watching myself drive it, but by the time Jon wakes up the sun is halfway to the top of the sky and my body has come back down. Want me to drive, he says. I ask him where we’re going. He grins. We’re already there.


It’s not so much a destination as a journey.

And what the fuck does that mean, I say.

It means shut up and enjoy this part.


A passing billboard tells me I’m no fun.


In JoeSeal parlance, a Joe can be a woman too, but only because people complained. Right before I started they did a limited edition JaneSeal for International Women’s Day. The tin was pink. It was a total PR disaster. But sales of JoeSeal went up by 34 per cent.


Sample tweet: Be the fence you wish to see in the world. Buy JoeSeal.


Think of the mind as a map, Jon says. You have places for different things. Memories, thoughts, feelings. You get my drift. I look at the ocean of desert touching the sky in every direction. I ask him what I store here. He looks around. Not much, I’d wager.


The trick is most people are bored. Horribly so. Most everything people do is motivated by that. Bored being single, get a girlfriend, bored of that, get married. Have a kid, have an affair, get a divorce, buy something expensive, fast. Work, work, work. Drink. Fuck. Sleep. My grandparents lived into their nineties. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t want another sixty years of being bored.


I say: Are those bats.

He says: Definitely not.


People say talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, but I don’t agree. Talking to yourself is just practising for conversations you haven’t had yet. The first sign of madness is not realising the person you’re speaking to is you.


I waste the hours by naming the cars passing on the other side of the highway. It’s pretty easy. After a while I realise I’m a passenger in those cars too. They’re all cars I’ve owned.


My first car was a 1992 Ford Fiesta. I got it in 2004 for £100. It was held together by rust and hope, red paint faded pink. I named him Steve McQueen, because he was so cool. He fell apart eventually, more holes than things holding him together. But he was fun, for a while.


Sample tweet: Delay the inevitable. Buy JoeSeal.


Think of it this way, Jon says. This is the Land of Left Behind. People, places, things that you once knew. Friends you forgot. Lovers you never loved. You know. I mention his solo album. He laughs. Another thing you learn about Jon Bon Jovi is that it’s pretty hard to hurt his feelings. On account of him being a projection of your subconscious and all.


The hair. That smile. It’s easy to forget that this isn’t Jon Bon Jovi. Not really. More like Non Jovi. A character I’ve conjured, plucked from the back of an album cover. And yet I’m happy to forget. To pretend. To feel like a kid again, in the company of the coolest man I’ve ever seen.


In 1990, Jon took a road trip on his motorcycle. After four hit albums and back-to-back world tours he was beaten, worn down, burned out. He put the band on blocks, stepped away a while. He cut his hair, rode between small towns, worked on songs that would become Keep the Faith.


Then he wrote the soundtrack for Young Guns II. Most people forget that was a solo project. He won the Golden Globe, but Sondheim beat him to the Oscar. It didn’t matter. He’d found what he was looking for. In the desert, he cast off the old and remade himself anew.


In this desert, he’s standing in his seat, pointing at a billboard advertising an unflattering picture I accidentally took of myself on my phone. Oh, buddy… how many chins is that.


She said she loved my body, kissed every inch of me to prove it. I can still feel her lips on my skin. Her soft, soft lips. The ones that remade me anew.


We drive past Steve McQueen, more rust than car, lying desolate where I parked him, at the side of the road in my mind, somewhere along the highway in the Land of Lost Things.


Maybe I should put the band on hiatus.

But you’re not in a band, Jon says.

It was a figure of speech, I say.

You’re a figure of speech.


In 2005, I took a road trip across the US. I drove 10,000 miles, hit thirty states in thirty days. Most of it looked like this. Miles of nothing, then endless suburbs littered with strip malls and chain restaurants. You can drive anywhere in America and find yourself exactly where you started, on a six-lane highway between a Sizzler and an Outback Steakhouse.


Sample tweet: Home is where the fence is. Buy JoeSeal.


Billboard: Kill yourself.


Another car I had was a 1985 Mitsubishi 4x4 named Magnum PI, on account of the bull bars looking like a moustache. The front seats had independent suspension, which you’re meant to use for off-road driving, but I used for car sex. A girlfriend and I would spend nights driving to quiet spots so she could straddle me while we rode around, let the seat do the work for us.


We drive past the scene on the opposite side of the road, her face contorted, mine straining to watch the road as the seat rocks us towards ecstasy. As the 4x4 fades in the rear view, Jon punches my arm, congratulates me on sex I had a decade ago.


Somewhere out in the plains, I see a boy, laughing, riding his bike. Behind him, another boy doing the same. My brother and me. We must be eleven, twelve. We’re happy. I guess I’ve lost a lot, I say.


An old friend stands at the side of the road, thumb raised, trying to hitch a ride. Paul. I don’t stop. Paul and I haven’t talked in a long time, and the reason we haven’t talked is I’m kinda embarrassed about the way my life has gone. I don’t want him to see me like this.


Jon is standing up in the passenger seat, arms out like this boat of a car is the goddamn Titanic. He’s grinning, trying, failing to shout things into rushing air. I ask him what he’s doing. Living, he says, and I tell him none of this is real. He grins. I’m just making the best with what I have.


On a passing billboard we’re forty feet high and happy.


I guess what I’m saying is I don’t want another sixty years of being alone.


You can be too happy, I say, to Jon, to no one in particular. Horse shit, he says. Look at dogs. Dogs are just about as happy as you can be. I shake my head, ask if he’s heard of Happy Tail. It’s where a dog wags his tail so hard against something that it splits at the tip and bleeds, I say. They end up spraying blood everywhere. We drive in silence a moment. You can be too happy.


Jon says: You have a unique talent for ruining everything.

Jon says: Pick the guy up, I’ll drive.


We switch seats. Jon spins us around, sailing the car on to the dirt, back across both lanes. Dusk falls, the sky glowing orange where it meets the desert. High above, light blue gives way to black. I look up and realise that the stars are just scratches. The night is worn, faded like an old photograph, processed through filters that replicate analogue wear.


How long will this take.

You mean picking him up.

This whole thing. This journey.

How long can you go without water.

Depends, I say. Five days. A week maybe.

Then we should probably try and finish before that.


I take out my notebook, start writing. Jon reads over my shoulder. That really how you’re going to start. I cover my notes with my hand. He pushes a cassette into the stereo. Brian Eno. It doesn’t fit the scene. It’s utterly perfect. Hey, he says. It’s your story.


He puts his foot on the dash, taps a beat on his thigh with the flat of his palm. He smiles. It’s a smile that’s sold a million albums. Here, now, among forgotten memories and discarded lives, I realise I haven’t listened to a Bon Jovi record in a decade.


Sample tweet: You won’t be alive to see it fade. Buy JoeSeal.


Nevada / Unremembered, Part II

We crossed into darkness without realising. The night is subtle like that, draping slowly then all at once. It’s cool out, not cold. We keep the top down. Jon wouldn’t have it any other way. He has one leg hanging over the door, his bare foot resting on the wing mirror, driving at 88 miles an hour exactly. I know this because he made a point of telling me. He has a single finger at the bottom of the steering wheel, tapping his free hand on his thigh, keeping time with a beat I can’t hear. It’s been half an hour since we picked up our hitcher. We still haven’t said a word.


I’m twenty-two. My best friend Paul and I are sneaking out of Los Angeles before daylight brings gridlock. We plan to hit thirty states in thirty days, drive more than 10,000 miles. It’ll be the trip of a lifetime.


Here, now, in the back seat of the Cadillac, Paul sits quietly, riding bitch with the friend who left him behind and his rock-star valet. He leans forward. Are you really Bon Jovi. Jon nods. Mate, I love that song you did. What’s it called, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’. Absolute tune, that one. Jon grips the steering wheel tight, mutters, Thanks. I don’t try to hide my smirk.


I don’t remember my first car crash. Mum told me the story. We were stopped at a red light when someone hit us from behind. My bottom teeth went through my lower lip. I still have the scar. It’s like a diary entry someone wrote for me, a souvenir of something I don’t recall.


I’m twenty-two, on my road trip with Paul, drinking stubbies in a Motel 6. He’s drunk, screaming at the top of his lungs. What’s in the box! What’s in the box! I have to punch him in the face to get him to go to sleep. He’ll wake up in a few hours with an aching jaw and I’ll tell him he fell over.


Jon taps the brakes twice, swings the steering wheel so the car swerves in the lane. I wake from a half sleep. What the fuck. He laughs, tells me the car is dancing. Mum used to do this, when I was a kid. It was hilarious then. You don’t have any fucking music on, I say. He brakes in time with his beat. No, champ, he says. You don’t have any fucking music on.


I turn around, kneel in my seat. Paul looks up. Remember those sisters we picked up at that karaoke bar, he says. Took a bullet for you that night, pal. Yours was all right, mind. I wince at his words. There’s a pause that carries too long. I try changing the subject.


Where is it you’re off to.

Oh, you know. Here, there.

This is the middle of nowhere.

Remember that dancer I fucked.

Where is it you need to get to, I say.

Great legs. Why didn’t I see her again.

Maybe the girlfriend you were living with.

Oh, true, he says. Shame though. Great legs.


The exchange is a little unfair. These are his words, but they don’t represent him, all of him. And yet they’re the reason he’s here, in the back of my mind. We haven’t spoken in years. Perhaps because he reminds me of a me I’d rather forget. Perhaps he reminds me of someone I still am.


Jon speaks. It’s Paul, right. Paul nods. You two used to be buddies, Jon says. So why don’t you talk any more. I already know the answer. Jon should too. The night is crisp and my breath fogs a little. But I’m not cold. It’s never cold here. Honestly, Paul says, it gets a bit boring after a while.


The first car hits us from behind. Shunts us forward. There’s confusion, the cry of torn metal. Tyres screech. We’re hit again from the side. A different car. What the fuck is— Jon starts. He doesn’t get to finish. Another shunt pushes us out of our lane, into oncoming traffic. Jon swerves us back into the right lane, straight into a broadside from a four-wheel drive. Jon speeds up, goes on the offensive, but one of them hits our rear right side. The back of the car swings out. Jon fights the wheel as we spin across the lane divider. The car is dancing, but not to our beat.


We come to a stop. I start to ask if everyone is okay when a speeding truck slams into us. The car rolls in slow motion. The ground hits me hard. I’m not sure how long I’m out. When I open my eyes, I’m lying in the dirt at the side of the road. Jon is nearby. Then I see Paul.


The last time I saw Paul he nearly killed us both in a car crash. That was a decade ago. Now he’s a mangled body in a wrecked car in my mind. The night drapes slowly and then all at once.


Sample tweet: You can’t protect everything. Buy JoeSeal.


Jon stands up, dusts himself off. He walks over to where I’m standing. Shit. Some ride. I look down at Paul’s body. Tell that to Paul. Jon asks if he’s dead. Either that or he’s really fucking unwell, I say. Jon leans close, puts his arm around my shoulder. You lose some, you lose some.


I brush his hand away. What good are you, I say. You act like you know everything. You don’t know shit. The road is littered with metal and glass and Paul. I know all kinds of things, Jon says. I know it’s pretty difficult to kill yourself with Ketamine.


He starts walking. I watch Paul turn to dust and bones, his remains carried away by the wind. Jon puts a hand up to stop his hat going with them. You coming, he says. The coolest man I’ve never met walks from highway into shadow. I pick up my notebook, follow along behind.


On our road trip around the US I fell asleep at the wheel. I’d been driving all night. Paul was asleep in the passenger seat. It was only a second. Maybe less. A microsleep, they call it. Long enough that I woke up too close to the Jeep in front, had to swerve to avoid hitting it. The driver of the Jeep honked her horn, shouted inaudible insults into my rear view. I pulled over soon after. Paul slept through the whole thing. I never told him.


Looked like a panini,I don’t mind,