So Whatcha Want?

Picture me and Ziggy sitting on a very rectangular couch, notebooks on the coffee table in front of us, a guitar in my lap and my hair all over the fucking place because I’ve been tearing it out.

Still no song. Continue Reading »

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You Think You Know Her

Court and I were sitting at Claire’s bedside while she took one of her opiate-induced naps. Let’s just say it was the next day, but the days were really running together for me. I mean, even more than usual.

I’m pretty sure I was the one who started the conversation. “So. Ziggy thinks I’m obsessed with being here when Claire goes.”

She didn’t give me the hairy eyeball, but she did chew on her reply for a few second before she said, “Does that bother you?”
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Screaming Trees

The result of the complication of sleeping arrangements was Ziggy booked another room at the extended-stay place, so no matter who went back there when, there was always at least one bed with clean sheets.

Or there would have been, if we hadn’t taken it upon ourselves to soil them the first chance we got, which was some time that night. Court had been the one to send us back to the hotel. “To work on the song, of course,” she had said. Of course.
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Hunger Strike

The thing about the shift schedule we’d devised is that I had been spending the nights at the hospital, and so mostly sleeping there. Back at the extended stay diorama, there were only two beds, and so if I napped there, I usually did it on the couch. This was all well and fine when it was just me, but now I had Ziggy attached to my hip, which complicated things.

Not that I minded having him attached to my hip at that point. I don’t get lonely easily. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t constantly interacting with Court and Remo and Claire. But oh god was it good to have him there.
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Bonfires Burning

Brace yourselves. The first thing that happened after Ziggy showed up was we had a fight.

I was trying another practice session with the guitar. It was well past dinner time and I should have eaten, but I hadn’t, and then I was startled by a knock on the door. I opened it and there he was, peering over the top of his sunglasses, his hair freshly spiked, wearing a seriously oversized white shirt as if it were a trench coat on top of T-shirt and jeans.

“Hi.” He grinned. Continue Reading »

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Cruel Little Number

Ziggy called me before he left LA. He left a message on voicemail at the hotel/apartment/whatever you want to call it, which I picked up when I went by there after lunch. “Hey, I have been deposed. What I don’t get is… isn’t that what they call it when a king or queen gets knocked off the throne? English sucks. Barrett wanted me to fly to New York first and then join you down there but I told him to go suck himself. Hang on, dear one.”

I had been telling myself I was fine, actually, that other than needing my fingertip skin cells to hurry up and die, everything was peachy. I was, of course, good at lying to myself. So good in fact that when I heard Ziggy’s message, I scoffed for a second and then felt bad that I had misled him into thinking I was having an emotional crisis.

And then I broke down in tears and remembered what a good liar I am when it comes to stuff like that. Yeah.
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Calling Elvis

I did battle with my demons again next time I got back to the apartment, late that afternoon. Make no mistake about it, there were several of them. I mean, sure, the demon of self-doubt and I go way back and I’ve always been able to kick his ass. But then there was the demon that set my fingers on fire. And the one that made my mind go blank whenever I tried to get a song idea.

And Mr. Self Doubt had a new tactic. I know you know how to write a song, he would say, but what if this one’s different? What if this is the one that doesn’t work?
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And So It Goes

So, I saw my nephew. I took him to the hospital cafeteria to look for cupcakes when it looked like Janine and Claire wanted to have a fight.

“Where’s Ziggy?” he wanted to know, while we walked down the hall away from Claire’s room.
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Me and Court and Remo—on the advice of Dr. Lenin—decided to rotate. The way we did it is going to sound backwards, but bear with me. Instead of every 8 hours one of us being there with Claire, it was the other way around. Every 8 hours one of us took a break and left the hospital. Technically it was a “sleep” shift, which worked for the other two— Remo from 8pm to 4am and Courtney from 4am to noon — but since mine was noon to 8pm, I didn’t sleep much in my off time. I took some naps, and I slept a good chunk at the hospital each night, though.

Which also meant I lay awake a lot, thinking about stuff, when I should have been sleeping.
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It Won’t Be Long

So do you ever wonder what happened to the doctor we visited in his office that one day–remember that? I kind of vaguely wondered, and eventually something he’d said that I hadn’t tracked on at the time started to make sense. He was Claire’s doctor when she was fighting the cancer. Now that she wasn’t treating it anymore, there wasn’t anything for him to do. Now it was a palliative specialist who had worked with her while she’d been in the care facility who was in charge of her in the hospital, too.

He was a young-ish guy, I felt, for that line of work, and his name was Lenin, but he pronounced it like it was French, Le Neen, with the emphasis on the second syllable. Dr. J.R. Lenin. His hair was cut extra short, like a rookie cop, but that was the only severe thing about him.

He took me and Court aside a day or two after the cops dropped their investigation, and asked us to ask questions of him. He sat us down in the extra room where they’d said the other of us could sleep as long as they didn’t need to put a patient in there. We sat in chair and he leaned against the hospital bed and said, “You can ask me the hard ones.”

So I went right to, “How long does she have to live?”

His smile was kind. “Right now, we really don’t know, but one I can answer is, no matter how long she has left, I’ll be doing my best to make sure her circumstances are mitigated–”

Court interrupted him. “How about, how can we prepare ourselves emotionally for her departure?” Departure. It was the wrong word–right first letter, though.

I don’t actually remember what he said in answer. I went off in my own little world, trying to imagine what it would be like to have her gone. One day someone’s there, and then one day they’re not. At least this one we saw coming? Unlike Jordan. Jordan had no idea that he was getting high for the last time.

I was glad all over again that Ziggy had decided to quit all drugs entirely. Especially since when I tuned back in to the conversation and Dr. Lenin was saying, “Do you know what she told me? THe thing she’s the most afraid of is that dying is going to hurt.”

“Huh. She told me the thing she’s the most afraid of is dying alone.”

“Well, those two things are related. She imagines that if she dies alone, she’ll be in distress with no one helping her and she imagines that will be terrifying. Emotional pain may be indistinguishable from physical pain in this sense.”

“I feel really weird,” Court said. “She kept saying the one thing she wanted to live to see was me graduate college and now I feel like because I did, she’s going downhill.”

“I know it may feel like you’re somehow responsible for her decline,” he said, “but first, let me assure you that you’re not. And second, even if we accept that a person may have some influence over when they go, that would only mean that she held on longer than she would have for you and what we’re seeing as decline now simply would have happened sooner.”

Court nodded solemnly. “Yeah.”

I looked at the scar on my hand instead of at the doctor. “Did anyone investigate whether her overdose was actually s…something else? That maybe it wasn’t an accident?” I added hurriedly, driven by some misguided ideal about courage. “I mean, do you think she tried to take things into her own hands?”

He raised his eyebrows, like maybe he was re-thinking his offer to answer the “hard questions,” but then he answered, his voice calm and gentle–almost Mr. Rogers-like–“I don’t think there’s a benefit to worrying about that. After all, we can get into how conscious was she of her choice and did she really mean to and a heap of other possibilities, all of which would be highly distressing to discuss with her. No, I find it more likely she just convinced herself that she needed, or maybe deserved, more than her regular dose.”

That sounded like Claire-logic, didn’t it? She’d skimped on her meds while at the end of her trip to Boston, so to make up for it she took extra. As if painkilers were calories.

“If it comes to it, I’ll be setting her up with a pump that will let her give herself a little spritz of opiate with the push of a button. She’ll be in control of it so she won’t have to wait for a nurse to administer it. It’ll be rate limited so she can’t overdo it. If there’s anything really important you want to talk to her about, I recommend doing it before she’s on that system, though.”

I nodded. I knew how difficult it could be to communicate through a drug haze. “Is this cancer likely to cause a lot of pain? I know it made her unbearably nauseous…”

“Symptoms vary from person to person. You already know about all her GI tract distress. The thing is, the pancreas also affects the liver, kidneys, and gall bladder. Her bile ducts are blocked. Toxins that aren’t flushed build up in the muscles and bloodstream and that can be excruciating.”

My muscles hurt just thinking about it. “What should we do for her?”

“You should probably ask her that,” he said. “But I think, Courtney, you already asked the bigger question, which is what can you do for yourselves. Don’t neglect your own physical or emotional needs, and reach out when you want someone to talk to.”

She told me later he didn’t just mean talk to each other, or to him. He’d given her the contact info for a bereavement counselor.

Remo arrived that night. While Court was “on call” at Claire’s side, I took him to get some dinner since they hadn’t fed him on the plane. “Couldn’t get a first class flight and didn’t have time to grab something before I had to rush to the airport,” he said. I wasn’t even sure whether he’d come from LA or Atlanta. He’d been back and forth.

I gave him the Cliff Notes version of our talk with the end-of-life doctor. “He said we should make sure we’re taking care of our own emotional needs and we should ask Claire what she wants from us.”

“Hoo boy, is he not aware what a can of worms that could be?” Remo replied over a plate of chicken wings. “Did you ask her?”

“She’s already told me,” I said. “She wants someone to be there when she dies and she wants me to write her a song, you know, to be played at the funeral.”

“Huh, really.”

“Yeah.” I shrugged. “Speaking of which, do you have any idea how we go about booking the church”

He wiped buffalo sauce off his fingers with the WetNap they’d given him for that purpose. “You think it’s like booking any other venue?”

“That’s what I’m asking. I have no clue. I mean, how do you book it if you don’t know when you’re going to need it?”

He shook his head gently at me. “No one knows in advance when they’re going to go. Trust me, this is not a unique situation. Let me handle that, all right? It’ll give me something to do.”

“Okay.” Of course he was right. And there was also a funeral home to contact and all that stuff. I was happy to let him handle that kind of thing. My voice was wry: “I guess you’ve got your thing to do and I’ve got mine.”

“Yeah. What’s funny is I’ve thought about writing a song for her but you know, the kind of things I’d write wouldn’t be appropriate for a church service.” Then he shook himself a little, going suddenly red-faced. “I mean, musically! I didn’t mean it like that.”

I couldn’t help it. That made me laugh. I was quickly incapacitated by laughing and hid my head in my arms so the waitress wouldn’t think I needed to be sent to the funny farm. But my uncontrollable laughing made Remo laugh, too, and we sat there laughing until we were practically crying.

We had to stop when the waitress brought me a steak, and I calmed down enough to handle a sharp knife and eating some meat without choking. But I was still kind of smiling.

Until Remo said, “So what are you going to do? For the song, I mean.”

The truth sobered us both right up. “I have no fucking clue,” I told him.

No fucking clue.

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