I drunk paged him from Sarah’s in the wee hours of the morning. She was asleep on the couch, looking like something from a Renaissance painting, hair flung everywhere and her arm over her eyes. When the phone rang a little while later she barely stirred.
I answered it in her bedroom. “Hey.”
“Hey. I see from the phone number you’re in the city already.”
“Yeah. I’m at Sarah’s. Figured I’d make sure I was here before you arrived.”
“You sound… tired.”
And you sound very far away, I thought. “Well, it is four AM here.”
“Is Sarah’s mother all right with you staying with her?”
“I get the feeling Sarah doesn’t give a fuck what her mother thinks.”
Ziggy snorted. “From what I’ve heard, the reason Sarah moved to New York was to get out from under her wing, so, yeah.”
I nearly said something to him then about Sarah being a lesbian anyway, and then realized I wasn’t sure if he already knew, and if he didn’t, well, even if Sarah was sometimes cavalier about outing I sure as hell wasn’t. I also realized maybe her mother didn’t know about either her or me. I could not remember who supposedly knew what. This is the problem with secrets. I decided not saying anything about it was, as usual, the safest policy. “How’s Digger?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Only if the answer’s bad.”
He chuckled. “He’s the same as always. He’s coming with me to New York.”
“Ugh. Does he have to?”
“Promise me you won’t resort to violence the next time he tests your patience.” I couldn’t figure out what to say to that, until he went on. “Kidding. I’m kidding.”
“You know I made a promise to myself to be nonviolent, right?”
“No, I had no idea. When was this?”
“Um, after I belted him when I fired him. I kind of felt like that was the one act of violence in my life I had waited the longest to deliver, and once it was over I should give it up for good.”
“You’ve really thought about this.” He sounded surprised.
“Of course I have. I measure myself against the crooked yardstick that is Digger every waking minute. Or at least I used to.”
“Have you been seeing a therapist?”
“No. Haven’t gotten around to it.”
“Because that’s a pretty advanced way of thinking about your relationship with your father.”
“I’ve had a lot of years to work on that one.” I cleared my throat. “I’ve had a lot less time to figure out more recent relationships.”
“Like ours, you mean.”
“Exactly. Thank god you understand what I’m talking about. At least some of the time.”
I could hear him breathing. I wished he could come through the phone and touch my hand.
“Daron,” he said.
“Like you’re in pain.”
I sucked in a breath, as if him saying that made the pain real instead of imaginary. Then again, what’s the difference between “real” and “imagined” pain? They both hurt the same.
Write that down. That’s a song lyric right there.
“I shouldn’t be,” I said. “I’m drunk, I’ve been dancing, and I’m going to see you in two, no, one and a half days. I should be happy.”
“You can be happy and still hurt,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. But now that you pointed it out, I do feel kind of like there’s a sword through my chest.”
“I guess because I miss you? Why else would I have paged you in the middle of the night?”
“I can change my flight. I can be there tomorrow.”
“Thanks. But I’ll live. I’m seeing Matthew tomorrow. Are you going to be at the Carlyle again?”
“No idea. You know how it is when you leave these things up to Digger. You need to get a pager so I can let you know where I am.”
“You could always call Carynne at the office number. We pay an answering service for a reason.”
“That’s what I mean. So you get a pager and then when there’s a message for you at the service, they beep you.”
“Ahh, that makes sense.”
“Or you can skip them entirely with one like mine where you can just enter the number to be called directly.”
“But not leave a message.”
“No. But you’re the only person I gave the number to.”
“Oh.” I scratched lightly and my palms with the tips of my fingers, one hand callused, the other long-nailed. I wanted to touch his skin so much in that moment that my hands itched. “I’m feeling very disconnected.”
“You’re drunk. I’m glad you thought to page me, though.”
“Me, too. Hearing your voice is… good.” I was lying on the floor of Sarah’s bedroom in the dark. “How can you tell I’m… hurting? What does it sound like?”
“Not sure I can describe it. You just sound… I don’t know. How do I sound?”
“You sound kind of tired, too. You been sleeping okay?”
“Eh. It’s been better, it’s been worse. I’ll sleep better after everything gets settled, I’m sure.”
“That’s probably true for both of us.”
I think he started telling me a story then, or maybe I dreamed it, because I fell asleep with the phone in my hand. Sarah woke me up a little while later trying to tuck a pillow under my head.
“What’s wrong with me?” I asked her as she climbed into the actual bed.
“What do you mean?”
“I thought I was happy, but Ziggy pointed out to me I’m not. I mean, I guess I thought if I could reconnect with him that would be the end of my misery, the promised land, la la.”
“Well, you do still have a mess with BNC to figure out,” she said. “So I could see being stressed out about that.”
“You’re happiest when you’re making music.”
She was undoubtedly right about that. Well. “Let’s write another song tomorrow.”
“Okay,” she said. “Good night, Daron.”
(Another Top 40 Hit from 1990. Not Heart’s best, honestly, but that shows you how the music industry machine worked on momentum in those days. -d.)