Ziggy was somewhat dressed down. He was wearing a plain denim jacket over a baby blue tank top and artfully distressed jeans. I couldn’t really make out his face what with him backlit by the sun, which meant he was wearing very little or no eyeliner.
He’d just asked to come in, as if I were holding court in a private parlor and not hiding in a rooftop water tank. My voice didn’t work very well when I tried to answer, “Sure.” It came out more of a cough. So I gestured for him to come toward me.
He closed the door behind him, plunging us into relative darkness, my eyes swimming with colors the shape of his shadow. I was suddenly very concerned with how rickety the planks and ladder-type things were as he climbed across. If Ziggy fell into the water… I racked my brain, trying to remember if he could swim. I was pretty sure he could. I had a vague memory of him diving into a motel pool in the brutal heat of Texas, browning almost instantly in the sun. That would’ve been April 1989, right? Our warmup tour, before we broke big, before he and I understood each other.
Not that I could really say we quote-unquote “understood” each other completely in 1991, either, but the sheer fact that he’d found me when no one else had–and that he was searching for me alone–seemed to indicate that he knew me pretty well right then.
It took him a minute or two to get across to where I was huddled, and I spent most of it trying to make my throat work. Crying all night had swollen my vocal cords as much as my eyes and I wasn’t sure I could talk. Despite being in a water tank I was kind of parched, but after trying to swallow a few times it started to loosen up.
Jeezus, you know what I hadn’t done for weeks and weeks? My vocal exercises. What a funny thing to beat myself up about at a moment like that. The fact that no one had gotten on my case about it, despite all the people who knew I was supposed to be doing it–Ziggy, Fran, Bart, Carynne, Flip, etc.–just proved everyone was avoiding me.
Ziggy folded himself up beside me, his posture almost the same as mine except he only hugged one of his knees, tucking his other leg to the side.
It felt suddenly right to flip things around and speak first. “You okay?” I asked him.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I haven’t slept. They think that’s what I’m doing right now. You know how I am when I don’t sleep.”
I rubbed my cheek against my forearm. “Actually, I don’t. And I haven’t, you know, wanted to pry.”
His lips silently formed the word pry as his expression turned to puzzlement. “I don’t think it’s prying if you want to know something about what’s going on in my head.”
“You don’t? I thought you hated people poking you in the brain.”
“I mean, I don’t think it’s prying if YOU want to know.” He looked at his fingers, curled over his palms. They were free of nail polish. “I know you’re curious.”
I was totally sucked into this line of thought. “Do I have to ask for you to tell me something?”
“You don’t, but I also don’t want to burden you with a lot of it.” He looked sidelong at me, as if he wanted to be coy but couldn’t resist watching for my reaction.
I was slightly scandalized by the thought. “It’s not a burden. You’re not a burden.” I suddenly remembered where we were and why. “I’m the burden.”
His expression darkened for a moment, like he was about to snap at me angrily, but the moment passed like a vulture’s shadow. “If you’re a burden, it’s a burden I want to carry,” he said softly. “You know that, right?”
My brain locked up. I pressed my hands to the sides of my head trying to hold it together. “I… Nothing’s making sense to me right now.”
“I know. I know how hard it can be to hear what people are telling you when you’re… like that.”
This wasn’t the time, I guess, for vagueness. If this conversation was going to mean anything, I wanted to at least try to understand what he meant. “Like what?”
This close, in the little bit of light that came through the cracks around the door, I could see the bags under his eyes. He squinted at me. “Exhausted, completely out of neurotransmitters, convinced you’re never going to get what you want, angry that you should be happier with what you’ve got.”
Shit. He really did know what I was going through. This only fueled my delusion that he’d known that it was going to come to this and that the way I was suffering now was some kind of payback for my forcing him to marry me.
I know how nuts that sounds, now. I didn’t then, yet.
I started to cry again because I couldn’t bring myself to say any of the things that went through my head at that moment, some because I knew they’d hurt him, some because I knew they’d hurt me.
But Ziggy hadn’t come in there to just sit with me in silence. Or, not only. He sat there while I cried for a little while, and put his hand on my back and rubbed between my shoulder blades in that way that was comforting even when I was hurting, but when I slowed down he eventually asked, “Are you crying because I’m right or because I’m wrong?”
“Because you’re right.” I took a deep, shaky breath, trying to get the willpower together to say the right thing. “But if you knew it was that bad for me, how could y–?”
“Daron.” His arm was around my shoulders by then. “Listen. I know it seems sometimes like I can read your mind, but I actually can’t. Sometimes you have to tell me what’s going on in your head.”
“Then how did you know?”
His turn to take a deep breath. “Because that’s exactly what I was going through in New York City two and a half years ago.”
Oh. Oh shit. “Oh God.” I choked down hard on the crying that time. This was too important to let it wash downstream. “I should have told you sooner. My fault. I should’ve told you.” That I loved you.
Ziggy shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault I got hooked on the painkillers they gave us after the explosion and it wasn’t your fault I jerked you around and used you before I realized what a monumental mistake that was. It wasn’t your fault you didn’t trust me or your feelings about me.”
Watching the tears pool in his eyes was mesmerizing. I swallowed. “Still. If I’d just told you I loved you earlier, we would’ve avoided a lot of things. I think.”
“Don’t think of it that way. I prefer to think it was actually really lucky. Because what if you’d told me and I’d gone and done what I did anyway? Because who knows if, under the influence of drugs, I might have? Then you’d’ve thought your love was worthless to me.” He blinked and the tears streaked down his cheeks. “It’s not.”
I couldn’t help but hug him at that point. He was real and breathing and not a figment of my imagination. I realized as I pressed my face to his shoulder that he was wearing my jacket. “You went to take a nap in my room.” My voice was loud in the hollow between our chests.
“Carynne said it was the last place you were seen. The window was still open.”
“And you saw the ladder and climbed it.”
“So did you.”
“Yeah.” I realized I was taking long, slow breaths. So was he. Him being there was all it took for my rhythm to adjust to match him without me even thinking about it. “Were you planning to take a nap?”
“I was planning to search for a note or a clue and then if I didn’t find anything, take a nap in your bed and see if my subconscious could find you. But then I saw the gauze curtain moving.”
“So no one knows you’re here.”
We sat like that, holding each other, while the pump engine made the tank hum. I decided it was now or never to try to repair things with him. “I’m sorry.”
“For what, dear one?”
“For springing the whole wedding ring on you.” Out poured my whole paranoid construction, in painstaking detail. I can’t accurately recreate my paranoid ramblings for you now because of course most of the details didn’t actually make sense, but it went something like this: “It was unfair and terrible and so I’m not surprised the backlash is, too. I mean, what kind of a jerk was I to be like hey, come to Saint-fucking-Louis, without, like, telling you anything first. Except you know I didn’t know–it wasn’t like a completely premeditated thing because although I’d been thinking about making you a promise and a commitment for a while I didn’t know it was going to go like that. Not exactly. I mean I guess the idea had been there for a while, and Remo making up with Mel, and seeing my mother, that all fed into it. But, I mean, remember you said you thought I’d called you to St. Louis to tell you something bad? Like I was quitting or breaking up with you or something and so I’d want to do it in person? Now I realize when you said that, you were trying to tell me how badly I’d treated you.”
And so on. Ziggy of course hadn’t meant anything of the sort but I’d decided that he had. I continued on from there with my misinterpretations of various things including Linn’s hostility and Ziggy’s avoidance of me. Some of these things we’d talked about just a few days ago and I’d already changed their meanings.
His eyes were very wide. He didn’t interrupt me. Just listened, his eyes getting wider and his cheeks getting wetter all the time. By the end he was holding me by the hands, our two rings seeming to faintly glow in the light that came through the cracks around the metal door.
I was really out of my mind and he knew it. He kissed our clasped hands. “Daron. Listen to me. Maybe you can’t hear these words right now. But you have everything backwards. Backwards and inside out and upside down.”
My argument was something like, “But it all makes sense.”
“It only seems to because you’re fucked up. When you get clear, you start to realize how much bullshit you tell yourself. Can I tell you some things that are absolutely true? Even if maybe you can’t absorb them right now?”
“Um, sure.” Honesty was all I’d wanted from him for the longest time anyway, right? I guess the only question was whether I was in any shape to handle the truth.