Skin

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.

One of the things I thought about was the fact that Ziggy was now in LA. His plan was to come here as soon as he was finished. But unlike my drive-by deposition, he had to do more than one thing there.

I wasn’t obsessing over him being there, I swear. But there was a lot to think over. Like Janessa being convinced he’d gotten her pregnant. And him cozying up to her to spy on Digger in the first place. And him coming to visit me as if the only reason he was in LA was to spend time with me, but actually he was sussing out shit with Digger and/or seeing Janessa at the same time. Well, maybe that was the wrong way to think about it. Could I blame a guy for multi-tasking?

No, of course not, but I reminded myself that what bothered me wasn’t that he had something up his sleeve, it was that he hadn’t told me about it. That he’d misrepresented what was going on. He’d been better about keeping me informed since then, hadn’t he? Well, maybe—far as I knew he hadn’t had any other affairs or relationships or clandestine spy operations since then.

And no, I didn’t think he was having any of the above on this trip to LA, either, but I did turn the possibilities over in my mind. You know, was there yet another actress named Jennifer lying in wait at the next publicity opportunity? I felt confident that this time around he would resist temptation but it was still something that crossed my mind.

It’s funny. Ziggy treated monogamy like a kink. In a way, that was why it worked for him. We lived in a world where we could kind of fuck anyone we set our minds to, so exclusivity was both novel and special. I did sort of wonder if the thrill would wear off for him, but I didn’t worry about it. And there’s a huge difference between wondering and worrying, you know?

And I realized that part of it what made it hot for me wasn’t the exclusivity, it was the trust. That was super-hot. I was getting off on trusting him.

Which maybe was like people who get off on risky behavior, since maybe trusting him when I’d been burned before was emotionally risky…? But that wasn’t the sort of thing I’d talk to a bereavement counselor about, so it’d have to wait until I got settled again with a regular therapist.

Or I could just talk it over inside my head while I lay awake. Which is what I was doing.

The morning after I’d found out Ziggy wouldn’t make it down there for several more days, I left the hospital to look for some kind of lunch that wasn’t hospital food, and I ended up driving around a bunch. I unexpectedly found a Buddhist meditation center, which I hadn’t expected in Tennessee, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. I walked around there for a bit, but the weather was hot at midday and I didn’t feel particularly peaceful about it. It was mostly just good to be somewhere that wasn’t the hospital.

When I got back to the extended stay place, there was a note that said they had a package for me at the front desk. I went to pick it up, wondering what it could be.

As soon as I got to the front desk, I could see what it was. There was a heavy-duty road case the shape of a guitar leaning against the wall behind the clerk.

My palms got a little clammy looking at it, even as my brain got curious. Which guitar was in there? Who sent it? Was it really for me, or for Remo?

It was for me. I opened it when I got back to the room. In it was a note from Ziggy. The guitar was the really low-action Miller that Bart had given me years ago and which I hadn’t really played very much since. Given the case and how it was packed I suspected Bart was the one who had packed it, too, but the note was definitely from Ziggy.

The note read: Something to keep your hands busy until I get there.

So I sat down with it in my lap before I could come up with any excuse not to, and familiarized myself with it again. The Miller had a sweet voice, not as throaty as a Yamaha classical and not as brittle and shiny-bright as an Ovation. The low action and closely placed strings made it similar in ease of playing to an electric guitar, except it was an all-wood acoustic. The fretboard felt silky under my fingertips as I took up a pick and strummed through a few chord progressions.

Or at least it felt silky until my fingertips started to burn like they were on fire. Jeezus. It only took about five minutes. The last time my fingers had hurt like that I was in fourth grade. Back in the seventies one of the things you’d hear about—which might have just come from war movies for all I knew, I don’t know if it was a real thing—was that prisoners of war in Vietnam would be tortured by getting bamboo slivers jammed under their fingernails. When I first picked up the guitar at age 10 that was what I imagined it felt like.

Now, in 1992, at age 24, I found myself wondering how, as a ten-year-old, I’d been able to withstand the torture. How, at age ten, had I made the decision that excruciating pain was worth it? That it was what I really wanted to do? I must’ve been very very sure that it was something I wanted to do.

I had been very very sure. I had never wanted to do something more. There was something about taking hold of the guitar—I was small so I almost had to wrestle with it to play it—and then using my two hands working in tandem to make notes, that absolutely delighted me right down to my very soul. The piano had never made me feel like that. Playing the piano felt like operating a machine to me. Playing the guitar felt like nothing my ten-year-old self had a metaphor for.

Now I can tell you it was like dancing. It was like sex. Because I was inhabiting my body and being wholly myself while doing it. So it was a kind of joy, and an experience I was starved for. I was so hungry for it that I really didn’t care about the pain in my fingers. It went away after some number of weeks of practice and I never looked back.

Well, until then, that is. I sat there in that furniture-showroom of an apartment and stared at my inflamed fingers and thought about what it had been like. And how playing the guitar had become so second-nature to me that I’d started taking it for granted.

No wonder I’d thought I could just tough my way through South America on will power and muscle relaxants. And no wonder I was in such a deep hole now, having finally had it driven home that actually my abilities weren’t just something that I could take for granted.

I was sweating. It hurt. I got up and put some ice cubes in a dish and stuck my fingers in it and cursed myself a bunch. I felt a little stupid, too. I mean, most of my anxiety about trying to play again was about whether my right hand would regain its dexterity and facility. And here I was unable to go more than five minutes because my Other hand was in so much pain.

I called Bart, but I got his machine and left him a message:

‘Hey, so, quick question. Do you remember how long it took to build up your calluses? Asking for a friend.”

And then I went back to the hospital. Maybe the staff would take pity on me.

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