That night we stayed put at the motel, with a plan to roll on to a press day in DC first thing in the morning. Staying the night in Pittsburgh hadn’t been the original-original plan, I don’t think, but then some question about where in Virginia the trucks would park cropped up, and Carynne definitely had this idea that sleeping in the same bed more than one night in a row was good for everyone’s health.
Maybe. Ziggy and I kind of ruined that plan of hers, though, by staying up all night talking. In the bus.
I had come out of the shower and had put a bunch of my stuff together in a bag. One of my big fears when we’d move to a hotel was that I’d leave something behind. Trying to keep it all in or near the bag was one strategy I’d adopted to try to prevent that.
Ziggy knocked on my window.
I opened the door. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He was carrying a gym bag over his shoulder himself. “I’m going to put some stuff in the bus. Come with me?”
Simple as that. I knew, somehow, he wasn’t just going to put his bag down there, and that he wasn’t asking me to just walk down there with him. “Sure, one sec.” I zipped my own bag shut and looked under the bed one more time.
Outside, it had gotten chilly, really gray and drizzly. Inside the bus we cracked open one of the teensy vent windows in the back and didn’t need the AC, which was good.
“Not that you haven’t been asked this a million times today, but… how’s your throat?” I asked, as I stuck my bag in the storage compartment.
“Feels okay,” he said as he moved his pillows to the back lounge.
I sat down next to him against the back wall of the bus. “Staying in here tonight?”
“Yeah. My room was noisy. The fridge kept waking me up.” He sighed tiredly and curled up with his head not on the pillows but on my thigh. He’d taken most of his makeup off but there was that perpetual soot clinging to his eyes. “I figure camping out here can’t be worse.”
“It’s like we’re hiding in the attic,” I said.
“Yeah.” He smiled. “So your sister was telling me about where you grew up.”
“What’d she tell you?”
“Mostly that it was boring.”
“That’s the whole point of suburban New Jersey,” I said. “It’s where everyone moved to get away from the ‘interesting’ stuff in the city.”
“You know, crime and art.”
He grinned up at me, rolling onto his back. “Which town are you from?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“No. And we moved when I was like eight, from one town to the next one over, to be closer to the store.”
“My grandfather–my mother’s father, that is–owned a shoe store on a little downtown street and Digger worked for him, running the store. Didn’t I tell you that already?”
“Tell me again.”
“And after Courtney was born, the house we were in was too small, but it took them a couple of years for us to move, and although we only moved like two miles away, we had to change schools.” I ran my fingers through his hair and he purred.
“Was that rough? Changing schools?”
“Yeah. I had been doing okay where I was, which was the school I’d been in since kindergarten, and even though I was a weird kid everyone knew me there. They sort of accepted my weirdness. But moving to a new school where I knew nobody was brutal.” I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. “The new school had a lot of troublemakers, first of all, and they were always fighting each other, the teacher, bullying girls in the hallways. It was a high stress environment. I tried to tell my mother about it and was told it was my fault because I didn’t try hard enough to get along with people.”
He looked horrified.
“I know, your mother would have gone and raised holy hell for you if she felt it was necessary,” I said, curling his hair behind his ear.
“Yeah,” he said. “She would’ve. Though she almost never had to, even though we moved several times.”
“That’s because you always charmed people wherever you went.”
“Truth.” He reached up and ran his thumb under my chin, right under my jawbone where I did a crap job of shaving so there was a sandpapery patch. “So school sucked, your mother sucked, your father was running a shoe store… Music?”
“Sucked,” I said. “In the old school we’d had a really fantastic music teacher, Mrs. B, for Bertonelli. She was good with kids and really encouraging to everyone, whether you had talent or not, but then I think she was extra nice to me because I was talented. She was always letting me try new instruments and… yeah, she was fun. In the new school we had this guy who hated life, hated his job, and hated kids.”
“Well, I could see how someone who hated kids would therefore hate his job as a schoolteacher and his life.”
“Exactly. He was terrible. He didn’t care if we learned anything, and the thing he cared about most was if we sat down and were quiet. A music class. Quiet. Yeah, right. And so some kid would get out of line, sometimes one of the troublemakers but sometimes not, and he would come down like a ton of bricks, and punish everyone.”
“Oh, you know, stupid stuff like everyone had to stand with their hands on their heads and not make a sound for five minutes, and if anyone did, it was five more minutes, and some little girl’s arms would hurt and she’d start to cry and he’d get all bent out of shape about how she made a noise and so that would be five more minutes, which would then get the rest of us even more pissed off at him. I mean, when you’re eight or nine you have a pretty simple but strong feeling about injustice. And so he’d lose control of the class completely, because then some rebel would make a fart noise or something, and it would quickly become obvious that even if he made us stand there for the entire forty-five minutes that he couldn’t make us do it longer than that.”
“Were you the rebel?” He looked up at me, as if wanting to see me answer.
“God, no. I was too terrified to draw attention to myself.” Which was the truth.
“I’m surprised you stuck with music, then.”
“Well, I got my music in other ways.”
“Remo and stuff?”
“Yeah. And teaching myself to play things at home. At one point I had corralled all the remotely musical toys in the house, including the ones for my baby sister, into my room, so a toy xylophone, these little plastic horns, the drums off these Christmas soldier figurines we had, every possible thing I could get my hands on, and I would put on a cassette recording I had of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I don’t even know where I got it. Maybe Mrs. B. Anyway, I planned out this whole orchestration to play along using all these toy instruments. And I like… worked on this thing, practicing the timing, and writing parts for the instruments, but playing them all myself, you know, this bit on the xylophone, then this bit on the horns… sitting on the floor of my bedroom surrounded by all this, and playing the cassette through a single-speaker player/recorder I had scrounged from somewhere…” I paused and tried to remember where it had come from. Digger won it on the boardwalk for a quarter, I think. There were a lot of those spinning wheel stands heaped with cheap electronics. “No wonder the other kids thought I was weird.”
“You spent a lot of time by yourself.”
“Yeah. I didn’t really like other kids. Every now and then I’d have a friend for a while, but they always moved away or moved on, or something. And since Digger didn’t care and Claire was much more occupied with my sisters, me being on my own a lot suited everyone just fine.”
Ziggy rolled onto his side again and I put my hand on his shoulder. “I didn’t have friends when I was a kid so much as I had minions,” he said.
Which made me laugh. “I can picture that.”
“When I was social, I was a ringleader. Any new place we moved, or if I had to change schools? Bam. I just took over wherever I went.”
“Including art school?”
“Well, that was a little different. First of all everyone’s scattered around and on their own programs, and second of all artists… It’s weird. There’s this intense need to both show your stuff and to compete, like you’re always vying for attention and approval, both from your teachers and from the other students, but then to do the art itself you have to hole up by yourself. It gets very Jekyll and Hyde. And you go from feeling like you’re a fraud to like everyone else are frauds and so what’s the point… Art school is not exactly a great environment for mental health.”
“I think people expect artists to be crazy. Musicians, too.”
“So instead of trying to make it better, they make it worse by saying that’s how it is.”
“Pretty much. Music school is like that, too, with the competition and jockeying and need to show off. But at least it got me out of New Jersey.”
“And ‘I’m going to school’ is a great excuse for going somewhere.”
“Was that how you ended up in Boston?”
“Yeah. The whole MassArt thing was a way to get out of New York and get away from my mother. I mean, I love her, and I appreciated her overprotective nature when I needed it at, you know, age ten. But when you’re eighteen…?”
Where was she when the choir guy was being all pedophiliac on people? I kind of wanted to ask, except I didn’t want to bring it up.
“And everyone approves so much of the whole going-to-school thing. Where’s little Johnny? Oh, he’s going to schooool, in Bossssston. Oh, niccccce.”
“I never realized before you did it a lot like I did, then.”
“Totally. Right up to the dropping out when money got tight and the classes got boring.”
“You’ve never really talked much about it. Art school, I mean.”
“It was already in the rear view mirror when we met. I don’t think about it much.”
I thought about that one time I had been to his apartment, though. I’d wondered at the time if a lot of the paintings on the walls were his own, but I hadn’t asked at the time. “Everything you do, even for a short time, makes you who you are,” I said.
“And we keep making ourselves who we are.”
The conversation went on like that. And on and on. We moved to the front lounge for a while, to get drinks out of the little fridge there, and then ended up back on the spot where Ziggy set up his nest as if he intended to sleep. But he never did.
We talked and talked. It was as if all the talking we hadn’t done for the past week had saved up somehow. Except we didn’t talk about current stuff so much as… everything. We hadn’t talked like that since… Well, maybe we’d never talked like that. Not for that long. Not so openly and comfortably.
Jonathan and I had talked like that practically from the first time we met. And we did again in Boston. And whenever we had the chance. Why did it take me and Ziggy years to get to that point?
I don’t know. At one point I looked and noticed the sky getting light. “Shit, it’s morning.”
He put his hand on his throat and cleared it. “Hm. I should rest.”
“I am getting a little sleepy, too.” I went to look at the time, but that was when Marty came down to the bus. It was almost time to get the caravan on the road.
Ziggy moved his stuff back into his bunk and then crawled in after it. “Wake me when we get to DC,” he said.
“I will.” I leaned down and kissed him goodnight.
Yeah, I know. It just felt like the right thing to do. And I think it was. And I know I had a golden opportunity to talk with him about everything he’d written about me in his notebook and I didn’t take it. Somehow, trying to just be us seemed more important in the moment.
Then I crawled into my own bunk and slept pretty much the whole way to Fairfax.