Ziggy returned a short while later with a bag of groceries from the bodega a few blocks away and a pizza.
“Barrett dropped by,” I told him, while we sat on the wide sill of the window with the open box of pizza between us. “To make sure I was the reason you weren’t answering the phone.”
Ziggy clucked his tongue. “I keep telling him if I haven’t already turned up dead in a ditch somewhere I’m not going to.”
I hooked his ankle with mine when he said that. Because I couldn’t not.
He tore off a bite of pizza from the folded slice in his hand and got sauce on his cheek. “Second time that’s happened.”
“Second time what’s happened?”
“A manager came to make sure we were alive when we were together.”
Right. Carynne at Ziggy’s old apartment in Boston. “Yeah, but it took like four days that time. Didn’t it? I don’t know. I lost track of time.”
We both grinned a little at that and he said, “Stay for a couple of days? If you can spare the time?”
I slipped off the sill (it was more of a shelf, really) and went to lick the sauce off his face. “I can spare the time. But can you?”
His answer was a sort of combination eye-roll and shrug.
“Is that yes or no?”
“It’s yes if I keep the phone turned off,” Ziggy said.
I had a sudden idea. “Come with me back to Boston.”
He raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“We’ll go out clubbing and see some shows,” I suggested.
“We don’t have to leave New York for that,” he pointed out.
“True, but if we go to Boston I won’t need to do laundry.”
“You can borrow clothes from me. Especially if we’re going to go out clubbing.” He held up a piece of pizza. “Plus there’s this.”
Damn, he was right. I took a bite from the piece he was dangling and I got cheese on my chin. “Food of the gods. All right, fine, I’m staying.”
He pulled me into a salty kiss, then let me go, handed me the slice and moved to the kitchenette where he turned the phone back on. “Excellent. I’ll cancel all my appointments for the next several days.” Then he thought for a second. “Wait. I think I already did because I knew you were coming. Well, let me just confirm with Barrett.”
I finished off the slice and then put the whole box into the fridge. There wasn’t a lot else in there. I got the feeling Ziggy didn’t cook much. Not that I expected him to. There was a six-pack box of one of the beers with a green bottle (Heineken? Rolling Rock?) with only one actual bottle left in it. I pulled it out and waved the bottle toward him while he dialed the phone and put it up to his ear. He pointed at the church key magnetized to the fridge door. I popped open the top, Ziggy took the bottle and then a swig, and then handed it back to me as he answered. “Hey, it’s me.”
I tried not to eavesdrop his conversation with his manager but it was pretty much impossible not to since the apartment was so small. “At least this time you know where I am,” I heard him say as I wandered back to the window with the beer.
The whole apartment was completely different from Ziggy’s place in Boston, which had been cluttered and baroque, with claw-footed furniture and velvet and art and knick-knacks and lace shawls. This place was all clean lines, Scandinavian furniture with very square edges. The few stuffed animals that were cohabitating on the half-full bookshelf were the only element that didn’t look like it came out of a design catalog. It was a stark reminder to me that the only constant about Ziggy was change.
I decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me from being in love with being in love.
Anyway. The sun went down and we got dressed and went out. I let him dress me and he put me in a shirt with no sleeves so he could admire my tattoo, he said. Of course I put on my leather jacket over that because it wasn’t really summer yet and it was a little on the chilly side to be out without a jacket.
We went first to a club I’d never been to and I don’t think I’ve been to again because I can’t remember the name of it now or even exactly where it was. It was not as tiny as The Pool Bar but about that level of D.I.Y. and we saw a kind of darkwave industrial duo, guitar and keyboard, who played their entire set with a black and white movie being projected onto them so we never saw their faces. Or learned the band’s name, for that matter. It was also very dark in the club so we went unrecognized until the set ended and then more lights came up, which was when we moved on to more familiar ground: Limelight.
We weren’t on any drugs but it was like my pores could still soak the essence of the Ecstasy we’d done at New Year’s Eve through my skin. We danced in a dark niche off the main room until I was on the verge of dizzy from dehydration and Ziggy was starting to attract attention, and then we went up to the VIP room and drank for a while–water first, then other things. I wondered if we’d run into Jordan but he wasn’t there that night.
I’m not sure how we ended up in the sacristy, which was a side room that still had a cross as part of one wall, but we were tipsy and meandering. And there was one of those moments that seems like it must be a dream, Ziggy standing in the beam from a pinkish halogen track light in the ceiling, looking up at the cross, and I had a sudden feeling he was about to cry.
Don’t be silly, you’re imagining things, I thought to myself, but I put my arms around him anyway just in case and I could feel his chest hiccup a little.
“Let’s go,” I said into his ear, and he let me pull him to a side door marked Fire Exit. No alarm rang as far as I could tell when we went through it, and I walked us quickly across the side street away from the club. No one even noticed us. I flagged a cab and we got inside.
The cab driver had the radio turned to a male voice talking in a language I didn’t speak–maybe it was the Haitian version of French?–but after the sensory overload that Limelight was at all times getting into that cab was almost like going into a deprivation tank. It was dark, the air was still, and the traffic wasn’t even bad. I gave Ziggy’s address.
Ziggy rested his head on my shoulder and I held him because that’s what you do at a time like that, even if you think maybe the cabbie is giving you dirty looks in the rear view mirror. Possibly. Might have been my imagination.
“You all right?” I eventually asked.
He drew a long, slow breath before he answered. “Think so. It just hits me sometimes.”
“What just hits you?”
“Guilt.” He sat up but twined a hand in mine. “The thing the Catholics teach best.”
“Ah.” I didn’t want to say much right then because the last thing I wanted to do was send him on an even worse guilt trip than he was already having.
“Is it all right if I tell you everything?”
“Yes. In fact, I insist.” I motioned for the driver to pull over. “Although if it’s really going to be everything, let’s pick up some beer.”
“Fair enough.” He gave me a half-smile. The cab dropped us at the curb. I paid the man without comment, tipped him fairly since his hostility might have been my imagination, and then we went into the shop. Ziggy got a bottle of red wine, then a second one since he had a free hand, I got two six packs, and the cashier put it all into brown paper bags, one for each of us. We walked the rest of the way to the apartment without saying much.
The next thing I knew Ziggy had filled up the bathtub with hot water again, and poured two plastic cups of red wine, and we were both sitting in the water, drinking. It sounds ridiculous but it felt like the right thing to do at the time, I guess.
“You’re the only person I’ve really talked to about my mother,” he said.
“Really?” She’d been dead for over a year at that point and the last time we’d talked about it had been that time at Remo’s last year when we wrote a song. I tried to remember how it went. “Not even Sarah?”
“Oh don’t you start with jealousy about Sarah.”
“I’m not jealous. I just thought, you know, she’s emotive. You might have talked about emotions with her.”
“She’s still in the stage where she’s trying to pretend her mother doesn’t exist, so she really does not want to hear about my guilt over pretending my mother didn’t exist.” He swirled wine in his mouth and leaned back against my chest. (He was between my legs.)
“I still pretend my mother doesn’t exist,” I said. “But I think it’s only fair, since she didn’t want me to exist.”
“You think so?”
“She didn’t have to say it more than twice for me to be convinced,” I said. “You know, like maybe the first time she was just saying it to hurt me, but she didn’t really mean it? ‘I wish you’d never been born.’ I thought maybe all mothers say that when they’re really really pissed off. But the second time she wasn’t even flipping out, she was more cold-blooded about it. But we were talking about your mother, not mine.”
“Eh, it’s just, I can’t figure out how to get rid of this guilt. I can’t tell her I’m sorry. I can’t make it up to her. I can’t tell her I regret not trying harder to make her understand why I had to go away, why I had to go live my life and be my own person.”
I remembered the woman I had met in the sky box at Madison Square Garden, holding court. And how proud of Ziggy she had been. “I think she understood that, Zig.”
“That night at MSG, I think you showed her it was all worth it. You’d climbed all the way to the top of the highest mountain. She was so…proud of you.” I choked a little on the word proud.
He was quiet for a while, thinking, letting that sink in. He finished his wine and set the cup down, then rested his hands on my knees. “I was in so much pain that night. I’d used up all my brain cells on Ecstasy the night before. Remember? I think I never really registered half of what was going on that night.”
“You were amazing.” It came out a whisper because my throat was too tight for anything else.
He leaned his forehead on his own knees. “And then the next day…I threw it all away.”
“I honestly have no idea now what I was thinking. A lot of things had been eating away at me from inside. Nothing was making sense. Pills mattered more than music. How could that ever make sense?” He sighed. “I guess if I have one saving grace in all this it’s that the last time she saw me she thought I was at the top of the world. I made Digger keep my rehab a secret from her. Told her I had exhaustion from the tour and so I had gone on a retreat to recover. Huh. I wonder if that’s one of those lies that becomes the truth. Maybe it planted the idea to go on spiritual retreat.”
“You never talked to her again?”
“Nope.” He swallowed hard. “Guilt guilt guilt.”
I gulped down my wine so I could hold him with both arms. “Do you still feel guilty about abandoning me, too?”
“A little. Not as much, because we’ve talked about it. When someone’s gone, though, there’s no way to process the guilt. The stone just gets heavier around my neck, if anything. It’s like each unsaid thing I remember adds another pebble to the load.”
“That sounds terrible.” I kissed his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”
“I keep telling myself that what I should do is live well, live the life she always wanted: a good life with lots of money and love and music.”
“You really did provide for her when no one else would,” I reminded him.
“True. You should’ve seen the place I had her set up, too. It was like, five thousand a month, I think? But it included not only the health assistants, but the place was like a resort spa. Painting class and happy hour and filet mignon, even if it was low-sodium filet mignon.”
“Five thousand? I think you can go on the QE2 for a month for that.”
“Pretty much.” He sighed again. “You’re right. At least there was that. She was in with all the rich upper crust ladies of New York society, being pampered to the end.” Two beats went by, though, and then he started to cry. But he kept talking, which meant after he’d get a string of words out he’d have to pause to gasp and sob. “I’ll just never know if she was freaking out because she didn’t know where I was or what had happened to me when she died. It terrifies me to think that no matter how pampered she was, that the worst thing was that maybe she was alone. Maybe the thing she would have wanted most wasn’t what I was paying for but…me to be there to hold her hand.”
I hugged him around the ribcage then, rocking him in the water, while he sobbed. When he slowed down a little, I said, “You don’t know that. She might have gone in her sleep.”
“Maybe.” He sniffled.
“I think what you’re really really afraid of wasn’t that your mother died alone.” I pressed my cheek against his wet skin as I talked. “I think you’re really really afraid of being alone. Of being the one who dies alone.”
Oh, jeez, that really really touched a nerve. Waterworks, serious serious waterworks. He ended up turning around in my arms and clinging to me and crying until his ribs hurt and he could barely breathe. I kicked the drain open with my foot so at least we wouldn’t drown accidentally and when he finally stopped I urged him to get up very gently. I knew I couldn’t carry him all wet and slippery to bed, but I could coax him into walking there while I kissed him on the temple and told him I loved him.
Yeah, told him I loved him. It was a little different from the previous times, telling him like that.
Getting into the bed was too difficult so I lay him down on top of it and then turned us into a bedcovers burrito by folding them over the top of us and then rolling onto his other side.
After a while we were lying there quietly, each of us had wandered off into our own thoughts. Ziggy murmured, “I feel like I’m such a downer to you.”
“Why, because you cry when you talk about your mother, which you only do with me?”
“It’s okay, Zig. It’s kind of a big deal that I’m the only one.”
“I guess it is.” He drew an easier breath than he had in a while. “And you’re okay with that?”
“Yes.” Leaving aside the question of whether I actually had the emotional fortitude myself to do this very often, yes, I was more than okay with it.
“I’m glad. Because this was really helpful.” He snuggled me. Cuddling with someone who was my size was really the best. “You made me realize the thing isn’t that I can’t get forgiveness from someone who’s gone. It’s that I have to forgive myself. I haven’t done that yet.”
“But you will?”
“I will,” he said. But he didn’t tell me how. Instead he kissed me and fell asleep in my arms.