That afternoon we had the worst sex ever. Okay, no, that’s an exaggeration. The worst sex is the sex that damages your relationship. This wasn’t that bad, but it was physically stressful, which made it emotionally stressful in a way I didn’t expect.
I can’t even tell you whose idea it was. I think we both felt it was sort of obligatory. Do you know what I mean? Like we were supposed to be all over each other after not doing it for weeks and it would be a waste to pass up the opportunity of being alone together.
During it I got the worst leg cramp ever–not exaggerating–and I didn’t come so much as my body just gave up in exhaustion. Ziggy did, but it was an effort. The less said about it, the better.
“We should have just stayed in the bathtub,” I said, when we were lying there afterward. My leg was still hurting.
“We would’ve got water everywhere.”
“No no, I meant not for sex–”
“Oh, I get you.” He kissed me behind the ear. “Yeah, in hindsight. At least you didn’t get a migraine or whatever this time?”
“Small miracles.” But a miracle nonetheless when you consider, yeah, it could have been worse. That ice-pick-to-the-brain sensation upon orgasm was no fun. Maybe I was lucky I hadn’t come.
Ziggy slipped out of bed. He came back with a bottle of Perrier, drank directly from the bottle, then handed it to me. I chugged a bit and handed it back.
After sex I was usually calm, but my thoughts were churning instead of quiet. When sex is the best–like with music–everything just works and I don’t have to think about it too hard. I can get out of my head instead of being trapped in my self-consciousness.
Instead of questioning everything.
Ziggy went over to one of the big windows. “Let’s go to the beach.”
“The beach? All I see out there is city. Are we even anywhere near where there are beaches?”
He snickered. “Yes, we are.” He slid open the balcony door and stepped out, buck naked. He stepped quickly back in. “Although I suppose it’s not really beach weather.” It looked sunny out there, but the air was early-spring cool.
He got back in the bed beside me, cradling the bottle. “You look pensive.”
“Aren’t I always?”
“Sometimes more than others.” He used his thumb to smooth the wrinkle between my eyebrows. “Should I ask what’s bothering you or is the list too long to go into?”
His thumb had found a headache waiting to happen. “I keep telling myself that when my hand and my concussion and whatever else is wrong with me heal up, that I’ll feel better about life, but every time it sounds more and more like a lie.”
He snuggled close. “That’s because it is a lie,” he said cheerfully. “The shit you’ve got to work on is there whether your body is healthy or not.”
Huh. And here I had thought I was just getting depressed. “Does meditation work?”
“Depends what you mean. Work for what?”
“I don’t know, you tell me? Are you better balanced, happier, calmer, or any of the things they say you supposedly get out of it?”
His teeth showed as he thought over his answer. “Do I seem better balanced or calmer than I used to be?”
He laughed silently through his nose. “But is that because of mediation? Or is it because I’m older and wiser? Or happier with my life situation? Or did antidepressants actually reshape my brain to be more functional? Or did grieving over my mother force me to face some shit that even therapy hadn’t touched?”
“You’re saying it’s all those things. That’s what you’re saying, right?”
“That is what I’m saying. I think what you’re asking, though, is whether meditation can help anyone feel better or more balanced or happier…?”
“Is that what I’m asking?”
“I think it is.”
He was right but for some reason I was incredible irked that he was. Maybe because I didn’t meditate. Ha. “I think you’re interested in having both sides of this conversation and what I think doesn’t matter.”
His cheer instantly disappeared. “Don’t be like that.”
“Be like what? Miserable? Bitter, angry, in pain? I’d love to not be like that. I’d love to feel literally anything else, Ziggy.”
As I spoke his head drew back like a cat when you hiss at it, or like a snake getting ready to strike, but when I said his name, he softened. He put the bottle on the nightstand and then curled his damp hand over the back of mine. “I know. Tell me how I can help.”
“I don’t think you can.” I ached all over. “I wish there was a magic pill that would just make me feel better.”
He stayed snuggled close but his voice held a note of surprise. “Vitamin F isn’t it?”
“No.” In a way, I guess I was surprised to hear it come out of my own mouth. “I know I said I want to feel literally anything else, and that’s what it does, but it doesn’t make me feel good. And washing it down with bourbon isn’t much better.” I dislodged him to lean over and rub my sore calf which was threatening to ball up again. “And whenever it wears off, I feel like I was run over by a truck. Which, now that I think about it…no wonder I feel like I was run over by a truck.” Duh.
“So you…admit…you’ve been…” He tip-toed carefully through his words.
“Really fucked up? Yeah.”
I felt rather than heard his sigh of relief.
“It hasn’t been good. It hasn’t been ‘working,’ not really. I shouldn’t have come on this tour in the first place. It’s poison but it’s necessary to get me on the fucking stage right now.” I felt very old and jaded to realize Carynne was right. I wasn’t the first performer to make this compromise, to walk this tightrope, to dig themselves this hole.
“Poison,” Ziggy repeated.
“Yeah.” Skull and crossbones. My head hurt. I let go of my leg and rubbed my temples instead.
“So… maybe you…have a tiny bit of an idea… why…” He trailed off but I didn’t finish his sentence for him this time.
An idea why…what? I looked back at him trying to guess.
He gave in and finished the thought: “…I’ve been avoiding you like the plague.”
Jeezus, that hurt.
I should’ve been happy to hear him finally admit it. No noise about how complicated the tour was or how demanding the promo schedule was or his insomnia, or mine, or how clingy the dancers were, or any of the other reasons that made perfect sense and yet still didn’t add up to the sum total of every goddamned day. No telling me I was being paranoid to think it. It had felt from day one like Ziggy’s attention was doled out carefully, in measured doses, like one of Flip’s remedies, never too much at once and always right when I was starting to get desperate…but I hadn’t wanted to believe it.
He started to try to say that I wasn’t myself and something about the danger of him relapsing into drug abuse but I couldn’t hear any of it. My attention was on the edge of the cliff I was standing on, staring into an abyss of sorts. I could only see two options–fight or give in. Giving in would’ve meant letting myself fall down that deep, dark hole where every paranoid thing I’d been thinking was suddenly true. It would’ve meant crying and falling to pieces and being consumed by the darkness of a downward spiral that went so deep I might never come out again.
Fight, unfortunately, meant fight. Get angry instead of sad. Lash out instead of self-flagellate. It was the only way I could see to fling myself away from the edge of the abyss. “You mean you’ve been fucking torturing me all this time.”
“That wasn’t the intent–”
“Like hell is wasn’t, Ziggy. This is how you like it. This is how you’ve always liked it. With me at your beck and call, desperate for any scrap you’ll give me.”
He sounded really alarmed. Or maybe outraged. “Daron!”
“You know it’s true. You can’t even really argue, because you know it’s true.”
“Don’t do this.”
“Do what? Tell you what I really think?”
“I’m not the same callous schemer I was before I fell in love with you, dammit,” he insisted. “And you’re not the same pathetic, needy closet case. You don’t have to be like this.”
What? “Not all of us can just change who we are like the color of our hair,” I shot back.
“Daron, listen to me. Look at me. None of this has been about controlling you or, or any of that shit. Am I a selfish bastard? Yes. Because us being separated was one hundred percent about me protecting myself–”
“No wonder Linn thinks I’m the anti-Christ!”
“–and it’s tearing me apart, dammit!” He grabbed hold of me from behind like he was afraid I was about to make a break for it.
He started crying first. Once he’d started, I started, but it wasn’t the despairing kind of crying by then. Now I just felt sad that we were both in this much pain.
Somehow we managed to get under the covers despite all the tears, and held each other. Somehow I went from being an irrationally angry aggrieved party to being the one comforting him. Some kind of animal instinct took over and I held him and stroked his hair and rocked him and soothed myself in the process. It was all the un-self-consciousness that I hadn’t found while we’d been having sex earlier.
When we both were calmer, he held up his hand and looked at the gold ring there. “I want to tell you something I told Linn.”
He placed that hand over my heart as he tucked his head in the crook of my shoulder. “She kept asking me, is he worth it? He doesn’t even know how much he’s hurting you.”
“How could I when–”
“I know. I know. When I hid it from you so well, and you had your own pain to deal with.”
“Is that what you told her?”
“No, I’m getting to that. Shush and let me tell the story.”
He started over. “She kept asking me, is he worth it? Look what you’re putting yourself through. Et cetera. I said it’s not a question of worth. The only thing that I have to prove the worth of is myself, my own word. My promise.” He paused to swallow. “This ring is a promise that we are one. That leaving you isn’t an option.”
My throat had such a lump in it I could barely breathe.
“Linn laughed. She’s had three husbands and left them all. She called me a young romantic and a fool. She’s right and I am happy to be a romantic fool.” He kissed my hot eyelids. “Even if I don’t look very happy at the moment.”
He nodded like I’d said something deep. “Those rings, she said, they symbolize collars around the neck, yoked together like oxen forever. I said no, they’re life preservers. They’re a lifeline. And we’ve reached the part of the ocean where neither of us can keep our head above water anymore.”
I put my hand over his, my heart pounding beneath them. “So…we’re drowning?”
He snorted wetly. “No. God, no. Because the life preserver keeps you from drowning, even if you pass out.”
I think it’s life jackets, not the ring-shaped life preservers, that do that, but I wasn’t about to argue with his metaphor, now that I understood it. “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t be here.”
“I know. And if I didn’t love you, you wouldn’t be here, either.”
True on so many levels. “So the fact that we’re miserable is our own fault?”
“Partly,” Ziggy said with a nod. “But it’ll be over soon.”
I believed him. I believed him with all my heart.