890. Running on Empty

What the hell are emotions, anyway?

That’s the kind of question I ask when I feel at my worst. I start to question why we even have feelings, which is basically questioning why human beings exist at all.

I guess I can see how some people get from there to thinking maybe being alive isn’t such a great thing, although I’ve never gone that far in that direction.

Ziggy got up from his nap, took one look at me, asked, “What is going on with you?” and boom, my mind imploded. I think I got out the words, “I’m so sorry.” And then I curled up like a snail in a shell–literally, with my knees in my face–doing the hyperventilation thing I do when I’m still trying not to cry.

What is crying, anyway? What does it do? How does it help? Or does it help anything at all?

“Daron, talk to me.”

Let’s see if I can pull out some of the threads I had tangled myself in. I’d been feeling wrecked over the songwriting paralysis–like something was really wrong but I couldn’t quite put my finger on how or why or what, like a bomb victim who has lost their limbs but still hasn’t really figured out why they can’t stand up. But it was complicated by feeling like if I was going to spend a day with Ziggy I should be happy, like I was wasting our time together feeling bad, or like I was going to make him feel bad, too. Like I was contagious. And that built up a bunch of fear and guilt… and remember I was already feeling these flickers of fear and guilt over thinking I’d coerced him into marrying me. (I’m just going to use the word “marry” because all the other terms are too clunky or unclear and, yeah, the word “marry” is loaded and that’s why it works.)

You’d think his declaration that our rings were like life preservers would’ve quieted that. It did, but only temporarily, I guess.

“Daron.” His hand on my back, on my shoulder. “It’s okay.”

It’s not okay. Curling up in the fetal position is not a symptom of okay.

“It’s okay,” he said again. “Let it out.”

“No!” I surprised myself by arguing. “Why?”

“You’ll feel better if you do.”

“No, I won’t. I’ll feel worse. I’ll feel like shit.”

“You wouldn’t if you’d get over your stupid idea that men don’t cry.”

Okay, maybe he was partly right about that, but right then, that wasn’t what I needed to hear. That choice came up again, fold or fight, and I fought. “Fuck you. Crying just makes me feel like crying more. It just digs the hole deeper.”

He made a skeptical face. “Denying your emotions is what makes them worse.”

“My emotions get more than enough of a workout, thank you.” I uncurled and walked to the window because I didn’t know where else to go. Inside I was screaming at myself for “ruining” the afternoon for him.

And then I had a stab of fear, one of those icicle-through-the-heart moments, realizing the last time I’d ruined a relationship by trying to manage my partner’s emotions wasn’t that long ago. Jonathan, I mean. I know there was more going on there but in that moment I felt a terrifying recognition that I was making the same mistake. Only this time it wasn’t a dress rehearsal. This was Ziggy. This was the real thing, if ever there was going to be such a thing.

This. This is why he’s been avoiding you. I couldn’t refute that thought. Each negative thought led to the next one in an almost logical fashion. I say almost because I know it didn’t really make sense, it only seemed to, to my stressed-out brain.

This is why they make you go away for a month when you go to rehab, I thought. Because you’ll just fuck up everyone around you who you care about. I couldn’t think of a more hellish situation, being forced to live with total strangers for a month and talk about yourself in front of them every day. No wonder it breaks people, I thought. Like a prison camp. But when you’re desperate–or your family is–because you’re that messed up to begin with, brainwashing sounds like a reasonable alternative.

“No wonder you want to stay away from me,” I said.

He had followed me to the window but stayed back a few feet, not crowding me, I guess.

“Isn’t that what you said? Because you didn’t want to get tempted back into drugs because you’d do anything to avoid rehab again?”

“I might have said that,” he admitted. “But–”

“I don’t blame you.” I got a grip on my breathing. The sky was blue but was starting to have tints of purple and gold. Was the day almost over? “I need… I need to get my shit together.”

“You will,” he said softly.

He was probably trying to say something encouraging, but I heard it as “you will if you go to rehab.” As if Ziggy was a more evolved being who was waiting for me to catch up. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but when I’m feeling inferior I come up with that kind of crap.

I decided to tell him. See if it scared him as much as it did me. “I was trying to write a song just now.”


“It didn’t work. I can’t…get anything to come. It’s like my brain is stalled. I turn the key but the engine doesn’t turn over.” I waited for him to say something. When he didn’t, I added, “It’s freaking me out.”

He moved close again, slowly, so as not to spook me. He settled beside me with an arm around my waist, both of us looking out the window. “There can be a lot of reasons why an engine won’t turn over.”

I swallowed.

“Like maybe something’s broken. Or maybe it’s fine except the oil dried up and it seized.”

“I feel broken.”

“I know you do, dear one.” He leaned his head on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry I dragged you halfway across the planet.”

“Don’t be sorry.”

“But I am. I should’ve insisted you hire a guitar guy to replace you and we should’ve gotten a different opening act. I didn’t want to believe it was as bad as it was.” His voice dropped as he tried, and failed, not to take on a scolding tone. “I told myself if it was that bad, you wouldn’t have stayed on the road with Nomad.”

“I shouldn’t have stayed on the road with Nomad.”

“We know that now.” He sighed. “But seriously, Daron. No wonder songwriting is the furthest thing from your mind.”

“But it’s not. I’ve been thinking about it constantly.”

“Thinking about how you’re not writing, you mean?”

“Um, well, yeah. For a while though it was like I just didn’t even get a single idea at all. A total blackout.”

“Right. Like I said, because songwriting was the furthest thing from your mind.”

“And now that I’m trying to write again and it’s not happening?”

“Like I said, maybe you’re just rusty. Or maybe you’re running on empty.”

“You make it sound like this is normal.”

He snorted. “Normal probably isn’t the right word. But let’s just say nothing you’ve said comes across as unexpected. I’m sure your muse is going to be fine. Once the rest of you is fine.”

He sounded so sure. Part of me was irked that he wasn’t as upset as I was, but only a little. A much bigger part of me was hoping what he was saying was true.

I decided trusting him was the best thing I could do right then. “You’re probably right.”

“You’ll see. I’ll be so right you’ll have to start believing me about other stuff, too,” he teased gently.

I hugged him. Emotionally, I felt a little bit better. Physically I was still a wreck and the withdrawal from Flexeril was still getting worse, but there was nothing I could do about that right that second other than hold onto the person I loved.

“Three more shows,” he murmured into my hair. “Think we can make it?”

“I sure hope so.”

We ended up standing there, holding each other, rocking side to side gently, as if we were almost slow-dancing, while the sun set over Brazil.

(Can’t believe I haven’t used this song yet? If the video’s not showing up for you, go watch it here: https://youtu.be/av3DXCDsABY — One of the all-time great songs about being on the road. Jackson Browne is great here, young, and so quintessentially American. And I love his voice. Such clarity. But David Lindley is such a huge part of what made the Jackson Browne band tick in those days… aaaaand okay maybe now I understand why Remo always said Nomad didn’t sound right without me. Lindley is another of my working-class musician heroes. -daron)


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