The Ballad Of Cody Byrne - An Excerpt

I went to a place where I could howl at the stars and they would not take me away in a straitjacket. I wanted to speak to the gods again. I'd lost the sound of their voices. By gods I don't mean Zeus and Apollo. I don't know what I mean by it, exactly. I like the idea of small gods, of every little rock and tree, of every bird, ant, and fly. I wanted to return to the tiny worlds I remembered losing myself in as a child. I came to this place in the desert mountains because I wanted to heal something that felt broken in me, though I could not say what it was. 

I'm a thirty-two year old male, light-skinned though I tan easily. I grew up in this place, in a mountain town before moving to New Orleans when I was seventeen with my mother and sister. New Orleans, that place that has mostly been my home these last ten years of my life as a grown man, or nearly grown, as we shall see. 

My thoughts begin to slow. I begin to edit, to read over what I have written and to grow irritated with myself. I am a white man, after all, and who wants to read my story? Is this even a story? My kind have had their day and it's time for new voices to be heard. Am I to be silent then, when silence means death? To flow is all, to let these words fall where they may. I have been silent most of my life, and I have suffered for it. I prefer to ride these currents of consciousness wherever they will take me. There is no destination, just a journey. 

I wake most days feeling like death itself. My mind roves over years of my life, fixating on the girl I most recently loved and the band we created. They've all moved on without me and I accept it. 

I am losing the thread of the story, though where does all this begin, anyway? Fifteen years ago I sat on the side of a desert mountain for three nights, alone and without food. I decided I was going to become the man I have become. My name is Cody Byrne. And this is my confession, and I hope, my salvation. 

The story I would like to tell begins nine years ago in a grand old house on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. It begins in a bedroom of this house where I am sitting staring at the words I have written in my notebook: will I ever have a girlfriend? I was twenty-four years old and I'd never had more than a few short affairs or unrequited love interests. I'd had sex, but the closest I'd come to a relationship was the love I'd felt for the daughter of my Dad's girlfriend when I was only twelve years old. So, kind of like my stepsister. I don't even know if you can call it love at such a young age.

So I'm sitting there in this bedroom and I'd like to write a story, but all I've written are these words: will I ever have a girlfriend? The grand old house belonged to Dolly Mayer, the grandmother of my stepfather, Mo. She lived to be 103 years old, a real New Orleans aristocrat, dining regularly in places like Galatoire's and Antoine's, a notable philanthropist as well. Her father had been a wealthy landowner in northeast Louisiana, and Dolly moved to New Orleans when she was only twelve years old. I can still remember her eyes as we sat out by the pool in her backyard when I was only seventeen and recently arrived. There was a light in her eyes and it shone on me. I felt like she approved of me. She passed away in a nursing home in northeast Louisiana about eighteen months after Katrina, and her grandson Mo moved in to her old house with his wife, Elaine, my mother. I'd come to help them move to Memphis but there had been a change of plans. One morning in November my mother woke from a nap and told me, "I have to divorce Mo." I was stunned. That night she disappeared and Mo and I went looking for her. I found her at Madigan's sitting alone in the back courtyard. She was irritated with us for not respecting her privacy. We sat and talked together awhile, and she drove me back to Dolly's house where we sat in the car arguing about it all. 

"I don't understand why you want to do this. We finally have a family here."

"I have not been happy with Mo for a very long time."

"But Mom, you've done this to me too many times. Please."

"I'm not doing this to hurt you, Cody. I can't sacrifice my needs as a woman to stay with Mo."

"Are you having an affair?"

"No, I'm not having an affair. And what if I was? Would you just hate me and never love me again?"

"I just don't understand it. You never said anything about being unhappy."

"I didn't want to worry you, Cody."

"But that makes it even worse. You don't say anything at all and then it just blows up and you're gone. It happened with Dad, it happened with Olsen, and now with Mo."

"I want to share a quote with you: 'Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause; He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws.'"

I was surprised to hear her quote these words of Sir Richard Francis Burton, the Victorian era explorer who had been one of my childhood heroes. I recited the rest of it.

"'All other life is living Death, a world where none but Phantoms dwell, A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the camel-bell.'"

I was surprised in that moment by what felt like having my own words thrown back at me. There is something in these words that I fail to understand, something about the appearance of them in this conversation that makes me pause. I feel the living death of silence, or since silence is rare, of whatever ambient sounds happen to surround me. Right now that sound is of the wind sighing in the trees around me on a remote mountain side in Oregon.