It was one of those days in May when the trees of New York no longer carried the promise of green buds on its branches, but the beginning of summer leaves instead. It made me smile as I climbed out of the taxi and walked into the airport.
Traveling had become a routine. Every weekend I performed a choreographed dance: e-ticket check-in to the left, slip off my shoes for security to the right, sashay below the array of screens to make sure my flight is on time, and perform a curtsey as I arrive at my terminal. It could be tedious at times, and frustrating at peak travel periods, but the destination was always worth it. Getting to see those green eyes and be enveloped in his arms on the other side made every mile worth it.
During the flight I usually pulled out the accordion folder of work to catch up on. As I sifted through the histories, research, and other documents from my department, the young woman beside me touched my arm hesitantly.
Her hair was the first thing that I noticed. It wasn’t large, frizzy, or styled in a weird way, but the blonde waves demanded attention more than her wintery blue eyes or thin pale lips. “Excuse me, I’m sorry,” she started and I pulled the reading glasses from my nose so I could see her better.
“I never do this. Don’t think I’m weird, but aren’t you Christie Kelly?” When I exhaled I pulled my lips into a grin. People don’t recognize me often, but when they do
I’m half flattered and half scared. “Yes,” I said softly. We still had three hours until we reached Dallas and most of the time when people recognized me, it was usually because they didn’t like me.
The woman next to me smiled and I mentally sighed with relief. “I promise I won’t bother you the rest of the trip, I just want to say…” she searched for her words briefly, “that you are an amazing person.”
I lifted an eyebrow at her response. This was a first in my book. “Thank you,” I said taken aback. “I don’t get that a lot… or really ever.”
Surprise lifted her eyebrows. “Well, I mean, I don’t know you, but growing up I was a huge Prey for Chance fan. And I remember reading about you when I was following their world tour in Australia. Then later I read about you in Chicago and in Maine. And don’t think I’m one of those crazy fans—but I remember wanting to know why you moved so much. I did some research and there are not a lot of positive things about you in the media.”
I nodded in agreement. Over the years many rumors about me coated the entertainment world. For many years the gossip haunted me.
“Anyway, when Kaden died in that plane crash in 2008, I had just graduated college and worked at a newspaper.” As the woman talked, her cheeks grew faintly pink and her eyes avoided mine in what I guessed was embarrassment. “I was copy editing an article someone wrote about the band and where they are now. It mentioned you were a graduate from Sarah Lawrence and you were working at the MET. It was…. uplifting. To see a woman go through life with so many hurdles set up against you and come out on top without help from anyone…” she paused and looked me in the eyes. “I wish more people knew the whole story. It’s very empowering.”
A small grin played on my lips as it was my turn to be embarrassed. I wondered what facts she did find because I didn’t see my life that way. My life was a rollercoaster, except sometimes I’d have to get out and push the car and be sure I make it back in before it gained too much momentum and I’d be left vulnerable on the tracks, in the destructive path of another oncoming car.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Oh!” She put a hand to her face briefly realizing her lack of manners. “I’m so sorry. I’m Megan. Megan Rivers.”
“Thank you, Megan,” I said genuinely as I shook her hand. “It means a lot to me, your words.” I let my smile reach my eyes. “Heh, I’m glad somewhere something decent is written about me.”
Megan bit her bottom lip and then said, “This is probably the journalist in me—and don’t think I’m fishing for anything—but a lot of people are intrigued by your story. They want to know about you. They want to know the real, honest-to-goodness, true story of Christie Kelly and Galvin Kismet.”
I raised my eyebrow in question. My name had been tossed around carelessly by the media since I had met Galvin and a lot of people dubbed me “unworthy” and have “tainted” him and his career.
“Really? You think so?” I asked. “Me?” Megan nodded her head with a shrug and gave an encouraging smile. So, after much deliberation I decided to set the record straight. Here it is: the true story behind world renowned rock star Galvin Kismet and ordinary, girl-next-door, Christie Kelly.
Note: As you will notice, each chapter of this book is accompanied by a song. I’ve done this because Galvin once told me that life is either the same song you sing day in and day out, or you go out into the world and devise your own soundtrack. While searching my cluttered mind for memories to put in this book, I also uncovered a number of songs that accompanied them. So I’ve listed them for you, the reader, giving you a look at the soundtrack to my life and by listening to the words, feeling the music, or experiencing the emotions on the tracks, you will better understand my story.
A Voice of Shadow
“Your Winter” – Sister Hazel
It all began at the ripe age of fifteen, in the year 2000. I already had one year of high school under my belt at University High School in Chicago. I was on the girl’s tennis team and had a huge crush on Joshua Bernstein. I would ogle at the way his dark blonde hair danced around his forehead in biology as he sat next to Kat Korrigan, a pale blonde who was so genuinely nice it was impossible to hate her. He smiled at her stories and during lectures would doodle on her notebook. My lab partner, on the other hand, constantly wiped his nose on the back of his arm, from knuckle to elbow, and I would cringe when his glistening limb crossed the invisible brick wall I built between us the first week of school.
I kept my grades average out of boredom and ducked into the next hallway whenever Lydia Zuniga came into my line of sight. Lydia had given me the nickname “Pisstine” in middle school and marked me her arch-rival (to this day I don’t remember why). Whenever I was within reach she never passed up the opportunity to humiliate me.
Home was a second-floor apartment eight blocks away that my mother and I moved into when I was seven years old. We lived meagerly because Mom was in a truck load of debt. Some of it was from the student loans on her three degrees, but the rest was from the credit cards her and my father lived on when he was in graduate school and I was a baby. After they divorced, my father’s well-off Australian family had the money for lawyers that my mother did not.
My mother, never one to complain, filed a Chapter 13 and had just started her dream job as an associate professor of American History at the University of Chicago, but after paying her monthly payment and miscellaneous bills—which she did, in full, on time, every month—there wasn’t much to live on. We were happy though. Mom and I were best friends and living with her, just the two of us, was happiness; I couldn’t picture living any other way.
I didn’t have many friends at school, just a few acquaintances I played tennis with and a group of girls that sometimes invited me to go out with them. One of these acquaintances was Kristin. I would have called her an average looking girl if it wasn’t for her strikingly beautiful red hair which she usually wore short and curled out. Her red hair, brown eyes, pale skin and bold clothing sometimes made me think of her as a Rainbow Bright character.
Kristin and I shared a desk in geography and she would walk into the classroom with headphones on her head every day. She kept one ear bud on her left ear and the other sat behind her right ear so she could exchange mutual hellos and gossip with me until the bell rang. When Mr. Lawrence started his lecture, she would wrap the headphone wire around her CD player and drop it her bright pink book bag that hung on the back of her chair.
One day Kristin came into class completely submerged in her music; both ear buds covered her ears. She smiled at me as she sat down but she clearly didn’t want to peel the head phones from her ears and talk to me. When the bell rang to begin class, she pulled the hood of her red and white striped sweater over her head and turned the music down, but I could still hear the notes as Mr. Lawrence began a lesson about water tables.
This behavior continued all week and it drove me crazy with curiosity. When I sat down in class on Friday, Kristin walked in with a black hood covering her head just as the bell rang. I was determined to quench my curiosity before class let out and find out what exactly kept her enamored for so long.
She smiled weakly at me and sat down once again. I smiled back but Kristin’s head bobbed with the music I couldn’t hear. “Kristin?” Mr. Lawrence was looking at our table but Kristin’s head still bobbed and she doodled circles and tornadoes on the margins of her notebook.
I nudged her and she looked at me, lifting one ear bud from her ear. I glanced towards the front of the classroom where Mr. Lawrence was standing.
“Do you mind placing the Walkman on my desk for the remainder of this class Miss Theobald?”
Kristin groaned, peeling the wire band off her head and slipping the CD player out of the front pocket of her hoodie. Dragging her feet, she placed it on the corner of his desk and the both of us barely made it through the hour long lecture.
When the bell rang again, Kristin sprang from her seat and made a beeline to Mr. Lawrence’s desk and grabbed her Walkman before Mr. Lawrence could stop her. I caught up to her just as she was slipping the headphones back onto her head. “Hey,” I said, clutching my books to my chest and keeping up with her long stride.
“Hey,” she replied, slipping the CD player back into her front pocket. “Can you believe Mr. Lawrence? Mortifying!”
“What were you listening to anyway?” “Quotations, that Prey for Chance album.” The sentence was in the tone of one big Duh! I had no idea what she was talking about and knew that it showed on my face. “Please tell me you know exactly what I’m talking about,” Kristin said, now walking backwards. I shook my head.
“’Cuttin’ the Rain’, you haven’t heard it?” I shook my head again. “Oh my god!” Kristin acted like I had just told her that I never tasted chocolate or chewed gum before.
She took me by the hand into a nook between lockers to get out of the transitioning crowd of students and pulled out the Walkman. “You need to hear this!” She plopped the headphones on my head as I wondered how late I would be to English. “It’s unbelievable!” she said fumbling to hit the play button.
The music started and I wasn’t impressed, it began with a drumming heart beat and the bombardment of a guitar and maybe a piano key or two and my smile faltered; was this really what Kristin was so excited about?
But then there was a voice, the most tantalizing, beautiful voice I had ever heard, that almost made me forget my physical myself. His voice. I had no idea what the lyrics were in the song, but his voice wrapped around my head, weaving through my hair and whispered into my ear images that made me drunk with a feeling I never felt before.
“So what do you think?” The sound of Kristin’s voice made me momentarily angry; where had that delicious sound gone? Then the headphones were ripped from my head and placed back on hers when the bell rang. We both bolted down the hallway. “Don’t you just love the guitar riffs and the jammin’ keys?”
“Uh-huh.” My voice wasn’t as enthusiastic as hers and I could feel her spirit wane when she spoke next.
“Ha! Right!” My quiet tone put her off and she turned the corner to get to her next class. “See ya on Monday!”
I found myself in an empty hallway, late for English, and I didn’t care. Me, the girl who’s never had a tardy slip, never had detention, the goody-two-shoes of the tenth grade simply stood in the silent corridor listening to the sound of His voice dying in my ears and I wanted to hold onto it for forever. I really, really needed to hear that voice again.
English and algebra were my last two classes of the day and they caused more torture than usual. I wanted to be able to sing the song in my head or hum the melody to keep it with me, but I had neither. That small exposure to a few measures of that song threw my world off its axis. It punctured a tiny window that gave me a peek at feelings, emotions and thoughts I never knew existed—knowing there was more to my life I wasn’t getting at this moment made me feel like a drug addict forced into rehab. My leg shook up and down and I bit my fingernails as I watched the clock inch its way to three o’clock.
When school let out, I flew down the stairs and got home in record time. I threw my book bag onto the kitchen floor and turned on the radio that eternally sat on the counter, tucked between the fridge and the toaster. The dial was permanently tuned to the station that played music only from the 60s and 70s. Hungrily, I turned the dial and searched for that station everyone in school listened to that played only the Billboard Top 50. I put a blank cassette tape in the cassette player and hoped for good luck.
Still looking for my fix, I turned up the volume and laid out my homework on the kitchen table but couldn’t concentrate enough to start it. I constantly tapped the cheap table cloth with my pencil top and glanced from my algebra book to the radio.
I began telling myself how stupid I was being and that the voice couldn’t have been that great. Still, I was curious and kept the radio turned to music I couldn’t stand and started paying serious attention to my homework.
In the middle of solving a quadratic equation I heard the heart beat drum opening and leapt for the radio to press record. My text book crashed to the floor but I didn’t bother picking it up because that voice was filling up the kitchen now—my kitchen! I turned the volume up as loud as it would go and let the voice fill every nook and cranny of our tiny apartment. Every waking moment since then was spent listening to that single cassette tape and I often fell asleep to it too, never tiring of that transcendent voice.
I vaguely recall seeing the band interviewed on TV, but nothing really stood out. It wasn’t love at first sight, because all four guys looked the same to me. My mind wandered, my eyes clouded over and a smile lazily stretched across my face as He answered questions. It wasn’t his incredible green eyes or his dark brown hair or his pouty smile, it was the voice that I had heard on the radio that made chills race up and down my spine.
And while other girls drooled over the bassist’s washboard abs, trademark Germanic blonde hair and chiseled facial features, I closed my eyes and soaked in the voice of the lead singer. I never bothered to put a face to the voice either. I always imagined a wispy mist of blue and silver observing the events that took place in the songs.
“He’s just a boy with a good voice,” my mom would tease me after I wore the cassette tape out playing and rewinding it for the next several weeks. I supposed the voice did belong to someone, but it was hard for me to give a mortal quality to a voice of that immensity. The subconscious refusal to bond the voice with a face gave me trouble remembering his name.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There would be no story if it wasn’t for that infamous plane ride, so the story officially started several months before, on a February night in 2000.
School was canceled due to a blizzard and Mom kept the curtains closed so we couldn’t be reminded of the chill. I was decked out in the same raggedy flannel pajamas I had woken up in and spent the entire day on the couch watching TV.
I could hear Mom punching away on the keyboard at the ancient computer we shared in my bedroom. Lying on my stomach, my face pressed up against the throw pillow, I watched an episode of Friends in a zombie-like state until the phone rang.
“I got it,” I mumbled just loud enough so my mother would hear me. When I rolled off the couch and stood up I felt incredibly tired and dragged my feet into the kitchen to pick up the extension.
“Christine? This is your father.” If I had felt tired a moment earlier, I was wide awake now. My dad never called us. In fact I hadn’t heard from him since the last birthday card he sent me when I turned eleven (which I received two months after I blew out my candles). He was a business man who moved back to his homeland of Australia after my parents divorced in 1992.
“Dad?” I reached for the kitchen chair and sat down; it was never good news when he was in the picture. I hadn’t heard his voice in years and hadn’t seen him in much longer. Was he in town? Did he want something from Mom? I knew this wasn’t going to be a good phone call… they never are.
“Yeah, how are you?” he replied, his voice foreign but familiar to my brain. How am I? How am I? Fine. Great. Super. Mom and I have been splendid, living without your help to pay off the staggering debt you left us in. Thanks for the child support, by the way, and thanks for all the guidance and help and love you left with me too.
“What do you want, Dad?” I sighed, looking down at my stocking feet. The sooner I got off the phone with him, the better.
“I need to talk to your mother.”
“She’s busy.” I didn’t want to see the worry lines in my mother’s face grow deeper when I told her who was on the line.
Mom appeared around the corner, carrying an empty coffee mug in one hand and a handful of papers in the other. “Who is it?” she mouthed, putting the pile of papers on top of her briefcase that sat on the counter.
“Christine, give your mother the phone.” The demanding, cold tone in his voice brought me back to my childhood and I fought back the feeling of hatred. Only he could have that affect on me and still be on the other side of the world.
Mom leaned up against the counter and poured herself another cup of coffee. She looked happy, despite the lethargic cloud that had its grip on our day. Once I handed the phone to her I knew her face would deepen with horrible memories and I didn’t want to see that.
“Christine,” his voice boomed in warning over the phone. “Put your mother on the phone, now.”
My eyebrows pulled together and I bit my lip as Mom looked up at me. “What’s wrong?” she asked, as I got up from the chair. My hand extended towards her. “It’s Dad, he wants to talk to you,” I said and watched her features sink as she took the phone from me. She disappeared into her bedroom for nearly two hours.
I made grilled cheese and a bowl of tomato soup because I couldn’t sit still. Sitting at the kitchen table, blowing on spoon after spoon of soup, I heard her voice rise on more than one occasion but I couldn’t make anything out, except for anger.
I felt the uncertainty and worry that accompanied me during my childhood coil its way around me once more until I threw the spoon down and pushed the uneaten grilled cheese away from me. I stood up and turned on the radio. The Beatles’ “Help” was on and I sat on the floor, my head up against the counter and sang along to the song, the palm of my hands pressed against my temples.
As the tempo drifted into the “Downtown” beat of Petula Clark, I got to my feet, turned up the volume and started turning on all the lights and straightening up the apartment, singing along. Whenever things got unbearable when I was younger, Mom and I would sit in the parked car, turn the music up and sing along to the radio until the melody melted our worries away.
I was screaming the lyrics to Rolling Stones’ “Get off my Cloud” into a pillow on the couch when the music stopped mid-chorus. I dropped the pillow and let the room’s cool air wipe the dampness from my face as I saw Mom in front of the radio in the kitchen, the phone still in her hand.
She looked tired, defeated.
Mom moved her way into the living room, her hand cupped over the phone. She slid the newspaper and opened mail onto the floor and sat down on the coffee table, across from me. Her eyes struggled to meet mine and lingered on my shoulder for a few seconds. “Your father wants to speak to you.”
I shook my head, my eyes pleading. “I don’t want to speak to him, Mom.” She looked down at the floor and sighed before her eyes met mine again.
“I know, baby, but give him a few minutes, for me, all right?” My eyes dropped down to the phone in her hands and I snatched it, aggravated. I shot up from my seat and walked away from her; I didn’t want her to see me any angrier.
“What?” I snapped into the receiver after I walked into the corner of the kitchen where I couldn’t see my mother. Pushing myself into the corner, I readied myself for something awful.
“I have some news for you, Christine.” He paused for me to say something but I closed my eyes and scratched my forehead, impatiently. “I got married a few months ago, her name is Penny. She has a daughter about your age and they want to meet you.” My eyes opened and I saw Mom’s shadow retreat back down the hall into her bedroom.
Married? He was married? It wasn’t that he couldn’t love us, it was that he wouldn’t because he obviously loved her, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten married. And a daughter! I wasn’t good enough for him? Okay, maybe I sound like a whining baby here, but can you imagine the thoughts, feelings and emotions that this news stirred up in a teenager?
“Do you have anything to say?”
“What do you want me to say, exactly?”
“’Congratulations’ would be nice.” I clenched my teeth together and took a deep breath. Are you kidding me? After all the pain you caused Mom and me and then disappearing for nearly three years only to come back in the form of a phone call to tell us this? was what I really wanted to tell him. “But I called to ask you to come to Melbourne, to live here for a bit, to meet your new mother and sister.”
“What?! No! Are you kidding me? There’s no way I would ever, EVER, live under your roof again!” I was so flustered that I hung up the phone, slamming it back in its cradle, disgusted at such a suggestion.
Moments later the phone trilled again. I walked away, flung open the curtains in the living room and walked out onto the snow covered patio. My stocking feet sunk into the snow and quickly became wet and frozen. I let the cold air seep into my pores and I gripped the cold ledge, letting the stone steal the warmth from my body.
When I was younger, my mother worked during the afternoon and evenings as a waitress to bring in some money. My dad went to graduate school to get his MBA and watched me while Mom was gone. Mom and I had breakfast together each morning and then she would walk me to school, but I hardly ever saw her beyond that. Dad picked me up from school and grilled me with homework and made-up assignments until bedtime. I disagreed with him often and he punished me by locking me in the linen closet until I saw things his way. He caused my claustrophobia with those punishments and after that phone call I needed to be outdoors where fresh air and freedom were guaranteed.
“Christie, honey, come back inside.” Mom was standing behind me, her eyes drifted down to my feet which were buried in snow. “You’re going to get frostbite.”
I took a deep breath of cold, clean air and directed my numb feet back indoors. I plopped back down onto the couch, while Mom took her seat on the coffee table across from me. “I know you don’t think too highly of your dad and I take the blame for that, but he actually wants to try to be your father again, Christie.
“I know the idea of living with him is not ideal, but maybe his new family,” Mom suppressed a cringe at the idea, “changed him for the better. I would love for you to get to know him Christie.”
I tried hard not to roll my eyes. “You never knew your father and you’re perfectly fine.”
She leaned over and put her hands on my knees. “He died when I was very young, Christie, you know that. I didn’t have a choice, you do.”
I knew that retort was coming but at least I tried something to help my case. I sighed and rolled my head up to the ceiling, crossing my arms over my chest.
“He needs to know how extraordinary you are, Christie.” I gave her a skeptical look. “I can’t keep you all to myself, though I would like to. He needs to see what he’s been missing. Try it out, what can it hurt? If you don’t like it there you can come straight home.” My eyes dropped to the floor in defeat. I just did not want to live with him, plain and simple. I didn’t care about making him happy, he didn’t deserve it. I wanted to continue being happy, living in Chicago with Mom… how was I going to get her to understand that?
The pile of mail Mom moved from the coffee table to the floor was strewn about the carpet. My eyes traveled across the many bills that had to be paid by the end of the month. How much money was I costing her? A mouth to feed, money for clothes, school supplies, bus fare, lunch money, allowance, doctor’s visits, a life to watch after when the work day is over…. She deserved a break; a vacation from motherhood and time to enjoy herself. Give Dad the expenses, the teenage attitude, the stress, and I could lay on the guilt while I was there too.
Yeah, why not live with him and make his perfect new life a living hell? I wasn’t seven years old anymore; I had a mind of my own. I would move in with him, give him hell and give Mom a break. I’d give her a chance to live her own life for a while. It wouldn’t be easy, but I could live with him until I drove him nuts and then I’d come back satisfied and free of him forever.
My eyes found hers once again. I knew once I opened my mouth and spoke, my life would be completely different. “Fine, but let me finish the school year first.”
She smiled briefly and clasped my hands in hers.
“AND–” I said much louder, a light bulb illuminating over my head, “after this trip, I don’t ever have to see him or have contact with him ever again, if I choose.”
Mom bit her bottom lip. I knew that that was definitely not what she wanted to hear, and it was something she was not looking forward to informing my father about. “All right, hun. I’ll see what I can do.”
She stood up and glanced back at me. “It’ll all work out, trust me.” I gave her a forced smile. “It’ll be hard, honey, but I think it’s the best for all of us, you need to have your father in your life.” I
struggled to keep the smile on my face. She disappeared into her bedroom again with the telephone for another hour. I fell asleep on the couch that night, screaming lyrics into a pillow.
I continued going to school every day, knowing that once the second of June came, it would be the last time I would ogle at Joshua, dodge Lydia, and joke with those familiar faces at lunch. It would be the last time I would do any of those things because when my father agreed to my terms, he set some of his own: I would have the right to never hear from him again if I agreed to live with my father from July 14, 2000 until October 2, 2002–unless I somehow found a quicker route to my eighteenth birthday.
Dreading a life with her estranged father in Australia, fifteen year old Christie Kelly finds herself seated next to the young, sultry voice of world-renowned rock star, Galvin Kismet on the transpacific flight. In this time of uncertainty and distress, a friendship quickly blossoms as they share their anxieties about what is waiting for them in Australia.