The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming memoir called Fire Road. Jones, an actor and composer, was married to Sam Shepard from 1969 to 1983.
Everyone knew he was not really part of our little Off-Off-Broadway world anymore; he was on the magic carpet to success. Sam had been off writing a movie with Antonioni in Italy, and then in L.A., so I found it strange he wanted to join our theatre group. He hadn’t done much acting yet, but he was full of life. When we all stood in a circle and did our sound and movement exercises, Sam would nearly always come over to me, doing some wild shapes and sounds for me to copy. I got the feeling he did crazy stuff just to see me go crazy.
One time he was doing a repetitious movement where he bent over with his hands all the way to the floor, then he pulled up, as though pulling up gallons of thick taffy, pulling it straight up his body and then throwing it up over his head with a growl. I mirrored him—bending over, pulling up the taffy, straightening up and roaring with my arms overhead. I timed it just right so that during the little bit of time when we were standing up straight facing each other, in between being bent over and just before the growl, I whispered, ”We can’t go on meeting like this!”
It was fun to throw those words in. I knew he’d get it. I knew it only confirmed all the looks and accidental bumps and jokes we made for each other.
We would steal away and drive around in his car at night, a beige Volvo station wagon. No destination, the smell of metal dust in the empty car. I watched his hands change gears in the rolling light from the streets. That car didn’t seem like him; it was something you’d find in a suburban driveway. It was placid and boxy, but he was jagged, vibrant, the air rippled around him. He’d walk into any dark place and not because he wasn’t scared—it was okay to be scared, it would all be gone some day anyway. Our empty places hummed together. His from fighting his way out of the suburbs, mine from the time I lived in the jungles of Yucatan, where everything I knew had been torn away down to the bare blank bottomless hollow.
He’d say, “What’s the worst thing that can happen—we die?”
He was always looking for a fight and looking for a joke and looking for who loved him, who was going to ignite the longing and keep him warm for a while.
One night after rehearsal we got to Max’s Kansas City before the rest of the cast. Everyone was coming because our friend Murray was in town. Sam and I sat across from Murray, squeezed into a booth with a black shiny table, shouting over the music. Murray held himself in tight and kept his sunglasses on.
He said, “So what’s happening? What’s new?”
Sam said, “O-Lan and I are moving in together.”
I froze—nobody knew about us sneaking around, and now he had crossed us over into the real world. No consultation, just said it. I was numb, feeling my life being changed again without my consent; barely even questioning that he had the right or that I could say no.
Murray said, “You two, huh. How about that.”
I was shocked and a little angry. How come no one ever thought I should have a say in my own life? I was 18, I wasn’t ready; there’d never been any conversation about this. I’d just been playing, glad to have an escape valve from the oppressive world of Tony, the guy I was living with, who was also the director of the group. It was a thrill sneaking around with Sam, he was way more fun than Tony, but I didn’t have any moving-in plans. I was looking for my own solo life to get going.
Now—him forcing my hand like this—I was off balance, and still getting my bearings when Tony showed up. I was scared Murray would blurt out something about the plans Sam had just made for us and I thought it would be more polite if Tony heard it from me. So I said to Tony, “I want to go home now. I’ve got to tell you something.”
He said, “Tell me now.”
I said, “I’ll tell you on the way back.”
In the cab I said, “At the end of the month, after the show is over, I’m going to move in with Sam.”
I’d said it but it wasn’t real yet.
Tony didn’t say anything all the way back to First Avenue. We went up the six flights and into the creaky apartment. I sat in the living room and he went into the bedroom. After about an hour of silence he came and stood in the doorway and said, “You’re not moving out at the end of the month, you’re moving out tonight. Call him up right now if that’s what you’re going to do.”
I said, “But it’s like the middle of the night.”
He said, “If you’re going, you go now. Get him on the phone.”
He had to find me Sam’s phone number, look through his director notes to find it. I called up and said, ”Tony says if I’m moving in with you I have to do it tonight.”
Sam said, “I’ll come and get you as soon as I can. Half hour or so.”
Tony went back to the bedroom and I kept quiet in the living room. The mood was too dangerous: the wrong move, too sudden, too loud, could crack the atmosphere and cause an explosion. My body was alight with survival instincts, again at the mercy of circumstances other people had made, blasted into unknown territory.
After a while there was a quiet knocking on the door. I opened it and Sam was standing there, bundled up in his brown suede Afghan jacket with the sheep fur around the collar and down the front, red and blue embroidery following its lines. His eyes were slanting up up up and all the bones and angles of his face were sharp. He was nervy and excited and he pulled me out of the apartment and held both my hands. We looked at each other in the stark overhead light of the hallway, jolted by the sudden change in our lives—the laughter bubbled up and we went running down the stairs to his station wagon double-parked in front.