So, I was expecting a bout of insomnia, but I guess all the alcohol and turkey outdid the stress, and I passed out not long after J. and I got in bed.
Jonathan, on the other hand, apparently lay awake thinking about everything he had seen and heard, and Jonathan being Jonathan, made up stories to explain it. Which means when Remo came back at like four in the morning, and we got up to groggily receive the news that Digger was alive but his liver wasn’t in such great shape, Jonathan was basically bursting with theories.
Jonathan being Jonathan, though, he didn’t really want to confront Remo with his theories. He inquired kind of casually, while Remo got a glass of milk to drink before he went to sleep. I’m not even sure why I was awake at that point. Martin slept through it all. I remember sitting on a stool at the end of the kitchen island, Jonathan on the stool next to me, while Remo leaned on the counter next to the fridge, drinking milk out of a high-ball tumbler.
“You’re a good friend to go with him to the hospital like that,” Jonathan said. “You and he go way back, I guess?”
“Yeah. Did Daron not tell you this story? We met in the army, drafted in the same year.”
That was, literally, all I knew of the story. “Yeah,” I said, like that contributed anything.
“When was that?” Jonathan asked. “Wasn’t the draft discontinued in, wait, hang on, that was after Viet Nam…”
“It was ’59. I was eighteen. Digger was older but young enough to get conscripted, I guess.” He shrugged. “There wasn’t really a war on, then, so it was mostly us fucking around and making trouble. Not a lot to tell.”
“In New Jersey? My dad did some stuff at Picatinny.”
“Oh yeah? We trained at Fort Dix and then were stationed in West Orange. I was fresh out of high school, had never even been to the East Coast before, hadn’t been living in Jersey more than a couple of months.” He took a gulp of milk. “There were some real hard cases in our unit. It was a thing judges did in those days, if they wanted to give you a chance, they would give you a choice, the army or jail.”
“Wait,” I said suddenly, “was Digger actually drafted? Or was he a hard case?”
Remo chuckled. “Drafted. I was the hard case.”
“What?” I was way too groggy to be having this conversation.
“Not as hard as you think,” Remo said. “Just the kind of trouble an eighteen year old could get into in those days. A drunken fight over a girl. Well, to be honest, two drunken fights, which was enough for the powers that be to think I might be developing a problem.”
“And the army was the solution?” Jonathan said, incredulous. “Did you drink less in the armed forces?”
“Hell, no, but I guess they figured I could get my aggression out in a more constructive way. I was young and dumb.”
And full of come, I heard in my head. That was an expression I’d heard before. Young and dumb and full of come.
“I think they figured you had a better shot at life if they sent you to the army instead of jail. At least you didn’t have the ex-con label hanging over you the rest of your life.” Remo drained the rest of the glass and then turned toward the sink. “It was a different time.”
“I’ll say,” Jonathan said.
Remo rinsed the glass and then opened the dishwasher, then remembered it was full of clean dishes and shut it again. He put the glass in the sink. “Well, I’m beat. Don’t expect me up early.”
“Us neither,” I said. Jonathan and I went back to bed.
This is when I got to hear all the theories.
“So if Remo was eighteen in 1959, that means he was born in like 1941.”
Math wasn’t really happening in my brain right then. I burrowed under the covers. “Uh huh.”
“Is he the same age as your mother, then?”
“You said Digger said he was helping her with her career when she was a budding starlet. How old was she then, sixteen? Eighteen?”
“I have no idea. Remember, Digger told me that when he was drunk off his ass, and he’s a liar.”
“Okay, but think about it. Did Digger already know Claire when he was drafted?”
“Jonathan.” I may have actually whined.
“Why are you asking me all these questions?”
He focused on me and rubbed my head and gave me a kiss. “Sorry. They’re more speculations than questions. I’m not expecting you to have the answers.”
“Oh. My head hurts.”
“You should drink some water.”
Before I could say anything he had turned the light back on and retrieved me a glass of water. I had to sit up to drink it. While I was doing that, he finally laid out what he was thinking.
“So Remo was a naive kid from the Midwest who came to New Jersey. Why? Seeking his fortune? Girl trouble at home? Both? He gets there, gets into trouble, gets into the army, falls under Digger’s wing. Digger, I imagine, is not all that interested in the army either, and he has other irons in the fire. He’s already wooing your mom…”
“Bam, she gets pregnant, they get married and settle down.”
“You ever wonder why Remo settled so close to your family, though?”
“Digger seemed to think it was because Remo was interested in your mother.”
“That’s just the kind of shit Digger says. Remo was not interested in my mother.”
“Maybe not by the time you were old enough to notice. But maybe by then he had another reason to hang around?”
“Daron, did you ever wonder if Remo’s your real father?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Remo and my mother said maybe two words to each other my whole life.”
“Which might be proof.”
“No.” I set the empty glass down on the side table.
“Think about it. Your parents would’ve been married like four or five years at that point and…”
“No!” I pulled my knees up, making a tent with the blankets. “It doesn’t add up, J. For one thing, Remo and I look nothing alike. Digger and I, on the other hand…”
“I didn’t think there’s that strong a resemblance.”
“Same height, same shoe size, and neither of us can grow facial hair,” I said. “Stop fantasizing.”
“Did you ever wish Remo was your father?”
“Really! Why the hell would I want my best friend to be my father?”
That shut him up suddenly. I hadn’t expected that. I could see him gap-mouthed like whatever he had been about to say had been completely derailed. Some major pillar of Jonathan’s worldview had apparently crumbled.
“What?” I demanded. “What now?”
“You just… when… I don’t…” He never did formulate whatever it was he was trying to say or ask.
“Can we sleep now, please?” I lay down and buried my head under my pillow.
“Daron, I’m sorry, but burying your head literally isn’t going to make this go away.”
“Make what go away?” I had to unbury to talk and to keep from suffocating. “What, exactly, is it I’m ignoring? Your wild speculations about what my parents’ generation was up to before I was born? Newsflash: I don’t care. I don’t want to know. If it would change the world for the better, great, but it won’t, so who the fuck cares?”
“You really don’t care?”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
“Yeah, but did you mean it?”
I don’t know why that was the point where I went ballistic. Maybe my fuse had finally burned down, whether that night or that month–I don’t know. I sat up and flung the pillow across the room, two-handed, like passing a basketball. It knocked some books off a shelf. “Don’t you ever question if I mean what I say. You know what? It takes me a huge amount of effort sometimes to get any words to come out of my mouth at all! You had better fucking believe every single one. Or you know what? I may as well never say another word.”
He tried to backpedal. “I… that wasn’t what I meant by it. I… It’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s just… it’s so hard to believe that anyone… I mean, that’s why I was checking.”
“Get it through your head. You’re not having a relationship with ‘anyone.’ You’re having a relationship with me.”
I do wonder what he would have said if I’d let him get his feet under him. I do. But I didn’t let him get a word in there and barreled ahead with “I know. I’m not like the other guys. I’ve tried, Jonathan. I’ve tried. I’ve tried to do what you want and be what you want.”
“You want to know how it’s made me feel? Do you?”
He got a word in edgewise. “I hope it’s made you feel secure and stable. You really needed that, Daron.”
“You did.” He scooched around so he was facing me crosslegged on the bed. He sounded quite reasonable. “You were never going to get comfortable with your sexuality if there was always a crisis around it. If there was every going to be any hope of you calming down and accepting yourself this is what it took.”
I, on the other hand, sounded quite angry. “So you know better.”
“Daron, honestly, you’re the one who constantly moans that you don’t know how relationships work and that you suck at them.”
Now I was the one who was gap-mouthed for a second, but only a second. The queue of things I hadn’t said from this argument alone was starting to get longer than I could remember. “I’m pretty sure one of the things that makes relationships work is listening to each other.”
“No kidding. We’re great at listening to each other.” He patted my leg.
I stared for a second. “We are?”
“Of course we are.”
“Great. Tell me how I feel, then.”
He blinked. That wasn’t at all what he was expecting me to say, I guess. He took a stab at it. “You’re hurt and angry because of all the baggage Digger dragged in, so you’re sensitive, and I apologize, by the way, for aggravating you when you’re sensitive with all the talk about your parents.”
He tried. He really tried. I really appreciated that. But it didn’t fix things. “J. I meant how I feel about our relationship.”
He thought for a second, but didn’t say anything.
“Were you about to say ‘secure and stable?'” I asked, so angry that it felt like steam must be coming out of my mouth. My face was that hot. “Because if you were, that was what you said. Gee, I wonder what I said about how I felt? You know, I don’t think my partner actually let me say. I think my partner is great at picking out what I should feel. You’re right. You do know better. I’m sure I’d be perfectly happy if I just felt the way you wanted me to all the time!”
I was shouting by the time I got to the end of that. I wasn’t even thinking about how I might wake up Martin or Remo. For once I didn’t give a fuck who else heard.
He took it, though. And I have to give him credit for not just shouting back at me some defensive bullshit. Oh I saw the urge to resist well up, but I think I kind of took his legs out from under him, too. How could he be defensive in the face of the fact he’d literally just glossed over me trying to tell him how I felt?
He knew it, too. His voice was quiet. “Daron. I’m sorry. Please tell me how you feel.”
“I feel like you’re not in a relationship with me. You’re in a relationship with your fantasy image of what a relationship should be like. Maybe that’s my fault because all I’ve done since we moved in together is try to live up to that and it’s driving me fucking insane.” My vision went white when I said those words, like I was being struck by lightning for speaking the truth. I blinked and ignored it and told some more: “I feel like a stray cat you trained to be a good pet. I feel like you could’ve had any cat from the pound, though. When I’m gone you’ll get another one and train him up the same way.”
He frowned soberly. “You need to get into therapy. You wouldn’t feel that way if you didn’t have such damaged self-esteem.”
“Fuck you, Jonathan. That was the wrong answer.” I got out of bed.
“Where are you going?”
“Another room. Somewhere where I’m not having this waste of an argument. For the record, you’re right, I need therapy, but I don’t think I need a therapist to tell me that when your boyfriend says hey, you’re not listening to me the right answer to when he finally tells you how he feels is not hey, your feelings are invalid. Here’s why.”
“That’s not how I meant it!” He jumped out of bed. “No, really, Daron, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m usually a better listener than that. It’s late, I drank too much wine, we…”
“I don’t need to know the excuses.” I pulled on some clothes and got a blanket out of the closet. “It’s just another example. You’re not having the relationship with ME. You’re having it with your idea of what I should be like. That’s why instead of talking to me about what I said, you told me what I should have felt.”
To my utter shock, he kind of admitted I was right. “Daron. I can see the person you could be. The person you are underneath. I try to bring out the best in you.”
“You see what you want to see,” I said. I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders.
I went into the living room. He didn’t follow. He was right about the excuses actually. What a stupid time to try to talk about our relationship. Tired, stressed, sleepy, drunk, overwrought, and people’d out.
Of course, it was me who brought up our relationship. Wasn’t it? So that just goes back to the whole I’m stupid at relationships thing. At least I knew when it was better to stop fighting than to keep going and make an even bloodier mess. And at least Jonathan either agreed or at least knew me well enough to leave me alone.
I walked barefoot past the swimming pool. The concrete felt freezing cold but the carpet in the studio wasn’t. I put the space heater on for a few minutes while I made the blanket into a nest in the corner behind the amp. I got the small pillow from the stool at the DX-7. Then I turned off the space heater since I didn’t want anything happening like, oh, burning the place down while I was asleep. There was already more than enough tragedy to go around.