523. Put the Message in the Box

I lay there with the phone in my hand, imagining all the ways it could go if I threw caution to the wind and just called him.

Hey, Zig, it’s me. I just wanted to know when you were going to come pick up your stuff. You know, the clothes and stuff you left with me when they carted you off to the loony bin that time…?

Yeah, no.

Hey, Zig, it’s me. How was India? They got good chicken tikka masala there…?

Yeah, right.

Hey, Zig, it’s me. I’m horny as fuck. What are you wearing?

Hah, no. No no no.

Hey, Zig. I hear The Man wants to put us between a rock and a hard place. Which one you gonna pick?

A sudden idea for a song grabbed me and I spent the next two hours writing and playing around with it. The last thing I expected to write just then was a rock anthem, but that’s what it was shaping up to be, about choosing between “rock” and a hard place. So yeah, it was another song that underneath was about me escaping New Jersey through music, though I didn’t refer to myself specifically. You know how that goes.

Hey, Zig, I just wrote a song. You wanna hear it?

I went down and made myself a midnight snack. Peanut butter on toast. With honey.

Chris came down to the kitchen looking bleary-eyed and poured himself a glass of milk. He had on a big, brown terrycloth bathrobe and his feet were bare.

We sat down together at the kitchen table. “Can’t sleep?” I asked.

“Yeah. Dunno what it is.”

“Stressed out?”

“Not really. I mean, I kinda want to know what’s going to happen with the band, but that’s nothing new.”

I wasn’t really digging for the answer, you know. I was just trying to be supportive. “You seen your old man lately?”

He jerked his head a little like that had stung or something. “Jeez. You go right for the jugular, don’t you.”

“I didn’t mean–”

“No no, it’s okay, I didn’t mean in a bad way.” He waved a hand at me. “I meant more like you hit the nail right on the head.”

“It was sticking out,” I said. “Wasn’t it?”

“Does anybody get along with their father?” Chris asked. “Well, I guess Bart does, now that he’s successful. Or was. Or, you know.”

“I know.” I did.

“I swear, there are days I think the only way I’m going to quit feeling like lightning bolts of rage are hitting me every time he opens his mouth is to just beat the shit out of him. But, you know. Violence isn’t the answer.”

“And really,” I added, “who’s to say that would actually make that feeling go away? Or that it wouldn’t be replaced with a worse one?”

“Or that I’d end up going to jail which he sure as shit isn’t worth going to jail over.” Chris drained the glass and set it down empty. “I guess I thought maybe we’d get somewhere, what with me being cleaned up and all.”

“You mean, you thought because you went to counseling and got your head together, that would make him less of a shit?”

“When you put it that way it sounds stupid.” Chris yawned. “But yeah. I thought, let’s see if I am enlightened enough to repair this relationship.”

“Both sides of a bridge have to be on solid ground for it to work.”

“Yeah. Yeah, basically. I have my shit together but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s the same shitbag he always was.” He sighed. “I mean, maybe the real problem, I thought, is that now that I’ve been through rehab, it’s just impossible to talk to him without seeing him as a chronic alcoholic. Like I can’t see him as a real person until he admits that. But no. Even without my rehab goggles on, he’s a shitbag. There are addicts who don’t beat their wife. The bottle doesn’t make you do that.”

“He beats your mother?”

“They’re separated, remember? He’s living with this other woman now. She drops him off at the job site if he can’t get a ride and it’s ugly sometimes, I tell you.”

“Ugly how?”

“He can’t drive himself. Lost his license because of drunk driving. But you know. In his eyes then the state took his manhood away, and so he resents her driving him even though she’s doing him a huge favor. So he takes it out on her. Meanwhile the person he should be blaming for his problem is himself, because it’s his own damn fault.”

“Jeez, yeah. That’s fucked up.” I licked honey off my fingers. “Hey, so have you given any thought to what I said about me paying off the I.R.S. for you?”

“I don’t want you to do that.”

“I think it’d be better if you didn’t have to see your father on job sites every day,” I said. “Have you thought about doing session gigs?”

He nodded, his hair flat and limp. “The problem is the number of gigs that could turn into a coke fest or a party.”

“Here, too? I thought that was just L.A.”

“Here, too, Dar’.” He shrugged. “Not every gig obviously, but I didn’t want to risk it.”

“What if we did them together? Sell ourselves as a package deal. Or you, me, and Bart.”

“You mean, become the backing band that we’re about to become for Ziggy anyway. But for anyone.”

My blood ran a little cold at that. “Um. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but…”

He stood up. “Thanks for looking out for me, Daron. But…” He trailed off, frowning.

“Yeah, I know, I don’t like that thought either,” I said. But we’d be a really good studio band. There wasn’t as much call for it around here as in New York, but…

“We can think about it later,” Chris said. “Let’s keep our options open.”

“I still think you should get away from your dad.”

“I agree. I’ll try to get transferred to another crew. Or pick up with another company. Good night.”

“Good night.” I watched him cross the living room and shuffle back up the stairs.

Hey, Zig, you’re the only one without Daddy issues. Because you didn’t have one. Um, forget I brought it up, okay?

Hey, Zig, I miss you. Do you miss me, too?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *