In mid-January, I traveled to Los Angeles. A good friend had been trying to convince me to visit since she’d moved there the previous year, and now, full of the possibility of my rock crush, Judah, I made it happen. As soon as I arrived, I was smitten with the city.
The night I worked up the courage to call Judah and leave a message: my friend was having a party at her bungalow. I stayed mostly sober in case he called back. At five in the morning he did, and when we realized I was staying just a few blocks away from his house, he sent someone over on foot to get me. I didn’t find this at all strange. I walked out of my friend’s bungalow and stood in front of the Silver Lake Lounge, enjoying the secret feeling of being awake when no one else was, loving the palm trees and vast sky, and wondering what would happen next. After about ten minutes, a short Asian woman, Alyssa, strutted toward me across the street. She was pretty, with long, flowing hair, and she was dressed casual-sexy in low-slung jeans, highheeled sandals, and a halter top with no bra.
It had never occurred to me that he’d send a girl. As she led me up into the hills where he lived, I darted sideways looks at her, trying to figure out who she was and what she was to Judah. I scattered bright, happy chatter around us, wanting her on my side.
Alyssa knocked quickly as we entered. I stopped just inside the threshold, suddenly nervous. It was a space with gravitas, low lit, the end of a fire burning in a tiled fireplace to my right. Judah sat on the couch, facing a low coffee table covered in clusters of lit candles, ashtrays, packs of cigarettes, lighters, pill canisters, a bottle of baby oil.
“Welcome,” he said. “Come on in.”
I smiled and bowed my head toward him, the master of the house.
“Good morning,” I said. “Thanks for having me. My friend couldn’t live any closer to you. I think her apartment may actually be inside your house.”
“What brings you to LA? Business or pleasure.”
“A little of both.”
I was still trying not to do anything to make Alyssa turn against me, so I let her slide onto the couch next to Judah and chose an armchair across from them. He picked up his phone and looked at it. He had us wait in the bedroom while a man came with a delivery, and then he offered us one of the cans of Tecate beer the man had brought.
Judah was wearing sunglasses, and he and I were circling each other slowly. This was what I had always dreamed of—time at home with an artist I admired—still, nerves rattled me. I was trying to soak it all in, not just the smell of incense and the silky black cat rubbing himself against my ankles, but also the gilded glisten of the air as it soaked into my pores.
Judah suddenly looked at me head-on. With a well-practiced motion, he pulled out a small baggie, dumped out a pile of white powder, and began to rack up lines. I had done some coke but had always felt like I was doing it wrong.
Judah cut a plastic straw and nodded me over, holding it out.
“Come do a line.”
“Thanks but not yet,” I said.
“Come do a line, or how do I know you’re not a narc?”
“I will, in a minute,” I said.
He stood and looked at me with force. Alyssa sat on the couch, watching as we went back and forth like this a few times. Judah and I faced off against each other for a long moment, and then we smiled, both satisfied we’d made our point. It was six in the morning.
I took the straw from him, kneeled on the floor in front of the table, and snaked the coke up into my nose, then closed my nostril with a finger and inhaled deeply. My skin glittered, my thoughts glistened, and I smiled at him. Judah moved with the concentrated nonchalance of someone who’d spent more than two decades onstage. As he cut lines, he spun stories of life on the road. I pushed back from the table and looked up.
“I’m good for now, or you’re about to have a very fucked-up girl on your hands.”
He smiled at me and nodded. Somehow I had propelled myself out of my regular, small life to sit with this man I admired. Judah brought out a bottle of Maker’s Mark and ordered Alyssa to the kitchen for ice. I watched them closely, still unsure about their relationship and what it meant for me, determined to talk with the men, not serve with the women. And yet, I wasn’t silky and well put together like she was, and it seemed possible he was going to send me away when the drugs ran out, with the promise of tickets to his next Boston show. The light around us was Southern California gold. I was very, very high.
“Maybe you girls should take your tops off,” Judah said.
“Okay,” Alyssa said, giggling, instantly topless.
Her skin was caramel, and her breasts were pretty, and she had a little potbelly that made her look younger than she was. I looked at Judah for a long moment.
“I’m going to keep my bra on,” I said.
He laughed. “Okay,” he said.
Slowly, embarrassed, I opened my shirt, button by button. Judah watched.
“Now go stand over there together,” he said, pointing. “Let’s take a picture.”
I handed him the disposable camera from my purse.
“Hug each other,” he said.
Alyssa knew exactly what to do and wrapped her satiny skin around me. She was much shorter than I was and her face nestled near my breasts, bound in their black bra. We were both still wearing our sunglasses. I smoked my cigarette, unable to contain the wolfish grin roaring up inside of me. So he wasn’t going to send me home after all. But I didn’t want to share him. After he snapped photos, I kneeled at the table again. Judah seemed to accept this. Around three in the afternoon, Alyssa went to sleep in his room.
“Why don’t you slip into something more comfortable?” he said.
I smiled at him and followed him toward the kitchen. He reached into the dryer and handed me a pair of black boxer briefs. I held his eyes with mine as I unsnapped my button and slowly slid down my fly. He stepped close to me and helped me tug down the stiff fabric of my jeans. My skin was instantly hot. I leaned into him. He didn’t touch me anywhere except where his arm circled my hips, which made it even hotter.
“Now put these on,” he said, his voice low and raspy.
I felt like I could get off, just standing there by his dryer with him.
Without thinking twice, I followed him outside in my bra and his underwear at three in the afternoon on a Saturday. It was a perfect Los Angeles day. I was dimly aware of at least one neighbor in a nearby yard, but everything outside our lovely, gauzy cocoon was distant from me. Until I glanced up and was immediately filled with delight: the mythic white letters of the Hollywood sign crowned the hillside in the distance. The love I’d felt for Los Angeles throughout my visit crested to a perfect blissful glow.
He held me on his lap and had me inhale nitrous, which washed me up into a remote part of myself where it felt like nothing bad had ever happened.
“Have you ever been fucked by a man on Viagra?” he said.
I shook my head no, not telling him I could nearly count all of the men I’d ever had sex with on two hands. We smoked and drank and kissed. His hands were heavy on the bare curves of my hips, his mouth on mine, the sun warm on my shoulders and back. Every time his fingertips grazed me, it was as if sparklers lit up along my skin.
He led me back inside, and I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water. He was touching me, leaning against me from behind, bending me over the counter, pulling down his underwear, and my underwear, and sliding himself inside of me. I pushed back into him, urgent with wanting. It felt like a perfect fit, which was something he sang about, and I heard his voice in my head, but no, it was just by my ear.
“Sarah,” he said. “Sarah.”
The sound of my name reminded me where I was, and who was fucking me, and the story he’d told me earlier in the day about a stripper/ drug dealer he’d fucked under the stage when his band was opening for one of the great stadium rock bands of his youth. How he’d made his reputation on fucking almost as much as on music. I kicked my way up out of the undertow of pleasure in which I’d been swept out to sea.
“Do you have a condom?” I asked.
“You can’t fuck me without a condom.”
“Don’t you want to get fucked?” he breathed into my ear, pushing into me.
“Yes,” I moaned. “Let’s find a condom.”
“No,” he said, and like smoke, he’d slid out of me.
I stood for a long moment, bereft, empty, abandoned, wanting to do whatever it took to make him fill me up again, now and forever, to be his good girl and make him like me. I turned to look at him, pulling up my underwear.
“Judah,” I said.
He was already walking back to the living room, lighting a cigarette. I followed behind him nervously, preparing to be cast out. As with my dad, and my kryptonite, I never thought about leaving. I would do anything to stay and have the experience, even when it didn’t go my way. But he simply cut new lines and handed me a fresh straw.
The afternoon unfolded like an extended game of Truth or Dare, with his telling me to do something, and my either saying yes or no. After a few rounds, I relaxed, realizing I’d finally found a man who was confident enough to withstand a no.
Time drifted to and fro. I looked up at his bookcase and saw my business card propped against a book, which made me happy. Next to it was a photo of a blond woman. It made me think of his most famous release, a breakup album.
I mentioned the title to him. “Who’d you write it for?” I asked.
“I wrote it about her,” he said, standing and retrieving the photo near my card.
I looked at her. She was pretty, but there was nothing in her face to indicate that she was going to end up on his bookshelf a decade after the release of the album she’d inspired, an album I’d listened to obsessively for years, whose lyrics had informed my thoughts on relationships and sex. I held on to the photo, not because I was jealous, but because I was learning something important about where art came from, and how I might turn Scott, my kryptonite, the shooting, and everything else into something, maybe as beautiful and raw and alchemic as his album had been for me and so many others.
As I handed the photo back to him, I saw his copy of "A Book of Dreams."
“Peter Reich,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to read that. My dad took me to see Wilhelm Reich’s cloud buster when I was little.”
“I covered ‘Cloudbusting,’ and I read it to understand the song before I sang it.”
“That’s right,” I said. “We talked about it in our interview.”
I grew happy then, as if I had stumbled upon the true path of my life and was finally learning what I needed to know to become the artist and the woman I wanted to be.
“I’m writing a book,” I said.
“You are? Do tell.”
I told him the whole story of my novel, "Because the Night." He listened intently, asking questions in the right places, but not trying to dominate the conversation or tell me how my book should be, which I appreciated.
Even though I’d seen the light leak out of the sky through the windows as we’d talked and made out, when Judah led me outside at nine
o’clock so he could go to the recording studio, the darkness surprised me. I was getting that Sunday night feeling, but I tried to fight it. He drove me in his new car into the hills, which were shadowed and lovely. We made out and did bumps of cocaine off his key, and he slid my red satin underwear off me to bring with him on tour in Europe. He pulled into the little alley near my friend’s bungalow.
“Thanks for having me over,” I said with a smile.
“You’ll always remember me because I was the first woman you made out with in this car,” I said, repeating words he’d spoken earlier,
certain everything was about to disappear forever. I felt like I was always building everything from scratch.
“I’ll always remember you because you’re my friend, and sometimes lover, and the woman whose novel I’m going to write an introduction for.”
“Really?” I said, too happy to even play at cool.
“I guess I’d better finish writing it then.”
He laughed again and kissed me quickly on the lips.
“Ciao, bella,” he said, and he was gone.
Late that night, my phone rang. This was the big life I’d always dreamed of. But when he invited me over, his voice reminded me of those people on "The X-Files" with the black tar in their eyes, as if the cocaine and the sleeplessness had replaced his essence with something dark, and I refused him, even though I feared that would be it between us. I hoped he would forgive me for leaving him alone late at night, even hoped he had someone else to be with, because I knew well the kind of loneliness he was calling in reinforcements against.
Excerpted from "Good Girl: A Memoir" by Sarah Tomlinson. Published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Tomlinson. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.