“Mr. Notorious, we were just about to call an ambulance,” the security guard said with relief in his voice.
“I’m fine, no need to call the EMTs,” I said, my voice a raspy croak. I headed home and gratefull climbed into bed. That was six weeks ago.Occasionally, I rise from the grimy, rumpled sheets to join my family in the dining room. I sit at the head of the table, unwashed and unshaven, making eye contact with no one, mostly staring into space. Ariane diligently sets a plate in front of me and I proceed to absentmindedly push the food around on the plate, rarely putting anything in my mouth.
“What is wrong with Daddy?”“Yes, Daddy,” Ariane says in a cold, disdainful voice. “What is wrong with you?”I want to say that everything is fine, that tomorrow I will leap out of bed with my old vigor and take one of the hot baths I love so, and storm into the talent agency with a fresh and exciting agenda. But the thought of doing any of those things is terrifying to me. I feel helpless. Dropping my head into hands, I begin to sniffle, then to cry.Mariposa begins to cry as well. I can see how frightened she is by my erractic behavior but I can do nothing to stop the flow of tears.
“Darling, go to your room, Mommy will be right behind you,” Ariane says, her voice now quiet and soothing. The child leaves and my wife turns to me. “Get a hold of youself, Sigismund,” she snaps.“I…I can’t, I can’t” I sob, overwhelmed with hysteria. “Ariane, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t want to feel like such a loser, to be dirty and smell and wear the same clothes everyday and sleep all the time. I want to snap out of it. But I don’t know how because I don’t know why…” the words die away in choking noises, my shoulders heave and I cover my face in shame.Ariane sighs but is otherwise silent, letting me cry myself out. She does not move to take my hand or put her arms around me, both of which I long for: any connection with another human to let me know I am a viable being.
“Sigismund. I have two options for you. Get professional help. Or get out of this house.” Her words ring with finality.Just to show Ariane I am not completely hopeless, I shuffle back into my dark bedroom. I will myself to get into a steaming shower and shave my bearded face, and change into a fresh set of pajamas. Then I slowly make my way to my elderly mother’s room. She is surprised to see me and even more shocked when I collapse in her arms.“Mother, I am such a wretchedly horrible man,” I say, starting to weep again.
Little by little I tell her the whole story. My connection to Brandy Lookingglass, Brandy’s tale of the abandoned baby, how I attempted to seduce her, my anger at her rejection and then…I freeze, I simply cannot get the words out without the sensations from before, the racing heart, my forehead beaded with sweat, the surety that I am going to black out.“I did a terrible thing, Mother,” I continue, finally finding the courage to tell her the rest. “I exposed Brandy. I told the whole story to the SimQuirer. I deliberately ruined her life because I had the power to do it. I wanted her to suffer. Why? Why am I this kind of person?”
Mother began to cry as well. “Because I married a Notorious. I should have known better. Sigismund, I am so sorry.”I was speechless. Did my mother’s words of sorrow indicate that there was no way to help me? I wander through the house, lost in thought until I come to Mariposa’s room. She is sleeping fitfully and making little noises of distress. This thing, this evilness that my father had passed to me, have I passed it to her as well?Next, I creep into the nursery. Ariane has put Vereen down, but she is still awake in another part of the house. I look closely at my son, looking for some sign of what is to come in his life. Is the Notorious family destined to carry on this way, wreaking havoc, ruining reputations, destroying whole lives? I don’t know but Ariane is right…I must get help.I see my doctor and he refers me to a hospital where I will be treated for nervous exhaustion. I am calmed by prescribed medications, and I am a little better about taking care of myself. But an unshakeable sense of doom permeates my every thought because I know in my dark heart that I cannot change my nature.The medications keep me sedate and often I find myself drifting in and out of a twilight. When she appeared at my bedside, I thought surely I was dreaming, some wonderful dream where Brandy comes back to me and gives me the chance I long for…the chance to explain to her that everything was beyond my control, I couldn’t help myself.“Sigismund, oh Sigismund, what has happened to you?” The drawl, slow and sweet as honey, is unmistakable.
Leaping out of bed in shock and then realizing how revealing my hospital gown can be, I back away from her. “What are you doing here?” I demand. I am absolutely mortified that she is seeing me in this state and in this place.“I’m here because your mother asked me to come here. Please relax, I didn’t mean to get you riled up,” she says with a little trepidation.
“Riled up? What are you implying?” She must know what kind of hospital we are in. Is she afraid of me?
As if reading my mind, she smiles warmly. “Sigismund, I came here as your friend. We need to talk. I have something to tell you.”Friend? Why would she want to be friends with me after what I had done? Surely she knew it was me that exposed her secret. Before I lost my mind, I had read all the tabloids and the stories were fierce, calling her every name in the book. The music company I had negotiated with wouldn’t even release her record. She was a pariah. But I desperately want to hear what she has to say.“Sigismund, you saved my life.”
I look at her, dumbfounded.
“Last week…I did something so miraculous, so wonderful and it never would have happened if it wasn’t for you.”“For the second time in my life, I got to hold my son in my arms, ” she continues, breathlessly. “Because of the news stories, Nick was able to find me and I was able to find him. I begged his Mama and Daddy to bring him to meet me and they were happy to do it.”“We spent hours together, learning all about each other. Oh, Sigismund, just looking into his precious face is like looking in a mirror! He is so handsome and smart as a whip.”“Nick brought pictures from his childhood. He was an adorable baby and he got adopted right away.”“As a child, he got everything he needed and wanted: a loving home, a good education, a safe environment to grow up in…all the things I would never have been able to give him.”“I knew I had to tell him the truth about what happened, about the awful choice I made. It was the hardest words I ever spoke and I couldn’t say I was sorry enough times. But he said he understood. Nick is exactly the age now that I was when I gave him up. He said he wouldn’t be able to raise a baby and he could see how I felt the same way.”“So you came here…you came here, why? I don’t understand why you are telling me this story, Brandy. You should hate me.”
She clasps my hands. “But I don’t, Sigismund, that is why I am here. Your mother said you were tore up about what you did, and I came here to let you know it all turned out for the best for me and for Nick.”I gaze at her warily for a long time.
“So…” I start, and some old part of me reawakens for a moment, I can hear it in my voice, a certain wicked, all-knowing tone. “You came here to thank me. I did you a favor, Brandy Lookingglass. Is that what you are trying to tell me?”It is her turn to back away and her countenance is sad.
“Your Mama said you were sick and that I could help you. I thought my story would…and if you want to believe that you ‘did me a favor’ than so be it. But if you are ever going to be really better, Mr. Notorious, I suggest you think, and I mean really think about the people you care about. What are you going to do for them to show them you love them?”I never answered Brandy that day. She turned and left the hospital without saying good-bye. It was clear she had nothing more to say to me. I was released with the promise to my treatment team that I would find some way to lead a less stressful life. I sold the talent agency to my little sisters, and found a relaxing hobby.Every weekend, I grab my surfboard……pack it in the car……head to the beach and catch some waves.When I am alone with the ocean I think of Brandy’s final words to me. How can I be good to the people who love me when I am so hopelessly unloveable? But my wife and my children have stuck by me and I am grateful.Time passes and I get grayer and fatter…but wiser? I’m not sure. Then one day at the beach, something unexpected happens. I am coming up from the shore when someone calls my name.
“Mr. Notorious, Mr. Notorious.” I look up and see a teenage girl standing in front of me.“I’m so sorry to bother you but…but I just need a minute of your time, please. I have my guitar here and I want–“I cut her off immediately. “I’m not in show business anymore. And shouldn’t you be in school? How’d you find me here, anyway?”
She is so wound up she can barely speak. “I’ve been following you here and its Saturday and if you could just listen for five minutes and tell me what you think, do I have a chance?” Her words tumble out in an excited rush.
I sigh deeply and then nod my head. What’s five minutes?She begins to strum nervously and then warbles a little bit. But as she gains confidence, her voice becomes fuller and her playing better. After a minute I realize she is quite good and has the potential to be great. But something troubles me, it is the song…then it hits me. The song is Brandy’s song from so long ago in that nightclub. The song of love…of loss…of regret.I hold up my hand to indicate to this enthusiastic young lady that I have heard enough.
“Well?” She gushes, putting her guitar aside, “What do you think?”
I look into her eyes and I see Brandy all over again. “I think you should go home to the people you love and forget about fame.”Naturally the girl is crestfallen. She assumes I am telling her that she is no good, that her chances of succeeding are nil. I know she has an excellent chance and that if I were to represent her, she would go straight to the top. But I don’t owe her that. I don’t anyone anything.
But I owe it to myself to once and for all tell Brandy I’m sorry. Maybe someday I will.