We get to the club at 7:30. Our parents are already inside, warming up.
“It sounds like that part in Free Willy, when Willy cries at night,” I say.
“So bad,” Will says.
The bouncer stops us at the door of Damon’s Dungeon. “You 18?”
“We’re with the band,” Will says.
“Our mom is Axl Rose,” I add.
“No shit,” says the bouncer. He lets out a hearty laugh. “You’re Rosa’s kids? Man, you guys grew up fast. Come on in. No drinking, though. I’m watching y’all. Hey, Timmy!” He motions to the bartender. “These are Rosa and Bobby’s kids! I know, right? Shirley Temples on me if they want ’em.”
“Well that was humiliating,” Will says as soon as we’re safely out of earshot.
Timmy the bartender calls us over. “The Fisher twins,” he says, smiling. “Damn. The last time I saw you you were in diapers.” He turns to me and adds, “You look just like your mom.” My mother is beautiful. It is the first time anyone has ever compared us.
Will nods. “She does. It’s creepy.”
Timmy lets us sit at the bar, and we go through three Shirley Temples apiece while the floor fills with people our parents’ age—and, to my total shock, some who look 20 years younger—screaming, “Yeaaah!” as they wait for the show to begin.
“Capacity,” the bouncer—who we later learn is called Skillet—yells to Timmy. I notice a sign above the bar that reads CAPACITY: 310. As in people. Some of those people, I later learn, are my mother’s patients and my father’s former calculus students.
“Our parents’ band just sold out a show,” I tell Will. He starts to text Angela but puts his phone down when the house lights dim. The audience screams, and we scream along. Suddenly the opening chords of “Paradise City” begin, and Uncle Crusty starts wailing on the drums. Ratbag has freshly dyed platinum hair and is playing the bass, and another guitarist, Ratbag’s wife, Lorna (aka Lynx), is playing guitar beside him. My mother, dressed in leather pants, her hair down and a red bandana tied across her forehead, begins to wail into the microphone: “Take me down to the Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty…” My father’s standing next to her, wearing a top hat like Slash’s, keeping his head down and seemingly melting into his guitar. It is pretty effing amazing. The crowd loves them, and so do I. They aren’t the best band in the world, for sure—20 years off hasn’t done them any favors—but they’re super into it, and having so much fun, and you can barely hear the instruments anyway because the crowd is singing along with our mother, who screeches like Axl Rose and laughs while attempting his signature side-to-side shimmy across the stage.
It’s very weird to realize that your parents used to be different people, and that they’re still different people behind their doors, in their offices, with their friends, breathing the same air but exhaling different selves, names beyond Mom and Dad, identities that may have faded but haven’t been totally erased. For an hour or so, my parents are Axl Rose and Slash, and Will and I are just two fans in the crowd, belonging to no one, our paths all intertwined but with visible exists, so that we can always stay together but we can also leave whenever we need to find our own ways.
After the show, Uncle Crusty approaches us in the parking lot.
“Good stuff,” says Will.
“Damn straight,” says Crusty.
“Where’d you learn to play the drums like that?” I ask.
“Julliard,” he says. “I went for classical piano, but my roommate liked the drums, so, you know, picked ’em up for fun.” He raises an eyebrow at Will. “Didn’t see that one coming, did you, Billy Boy?”
Will shrugs, clearly embarrassed.
“Let me tell you something,” Crusty continues, leaning against the doors of his van. “Your parents are good people. And good people know good people. And by the looks of you two, they made good people, too. Do you know what my real name is? What I really do for a living? I’m only Uncle Crusty when your mom and dad and Ratbag and Lynx make it fun.”
“So, who are you…really?” Will asks.
Uncle Crusty smiles at me. “It took me years to figure that out, and I don’t give away that kind of hard work for free.”
My parents, high on temporary rock stardom, show up in the parking lot singing and laughing and holding hands. They are in costume, dressed as strangers, but I recognize them a mile away. Anyone who loves them would.
That, I guess, is what happens when you figure out who you are. You can pretend to be someone else, but you’re always going to come shining through.
It looks absolutely perfect.
I can’t wait. ♦