What do you do when your singer-lover-partner-muse has an ego crisis?
Well, the first thing you don’t do is blame him—i.e. you don’t say, hey, if your ego wasn’t so inflated to begin with, maybe it wouldn’t have popped like a balloon. (Even if you might be thinking it.)
The second thing you don’t do is try to distract him with your own problems. I’m pretty sure But what about meeeeee doesn’t belong in the relationship playbook.
Third, don’t try to prove him wrong. I had to learn this the hard way. “You’re not a dinosaur.”
“Aren’t I? This is the march of the modern age, isn’t it? Strip away the magic, the mystery, the glamour.” He still had his fork in his hand but he was done eating. “No wonder I’m huge in places like Brazil and marginal here.”
“Whoa, whoa, who said you’re marginal here?”
He made a dismissive noise.
“And what, Brazil is a more mysterious, magic-loving place than here?”
“Didn’t you find it so?”
“I didn’t get out much,” I understated, “but not really. I think you’re exoticizing it.”
He let out a wry laugh. “Me, exoticize someone else? Never.”
I should’ve just… listened. Instead, I fought with him because I didn’t want him to feel that way and I thought I could argue him out of it. “You think just because people exoticize you that you’re immune to doing it to others?”
“I have a much more highly developed sense of it than most people. People exoticize me because I encourage them to. I manipulate it consciously.”
“Except when your record company asks you to whiten things up.”
He bared his teeth and his fingers whitened around the fork. “Mills can go fuck himself.”
At least we agreed on that. “Is he still holding up release of the album in the US?” Ziggy hadn’t breathed a word to me about it since we’d returned stateside.
“Who knows.” He finally set the fork down. It clicked against the cobalt blue artisanal stoneware plate. (They were all like that.) “Who cares.” Now that his hand was free he put it over his eyes.
Oh, Zig, no.
His hand over his eyes meant he was no longer glaring at me across the table, and I felt like I could move. I got up and put my hand on his shoulder.
I hadn’t realized we were in the middle of a fight, though. He shrugged me off and went to stand on the far side of the couch, his hand and wrist curled inward toward his mouth like a question mark. I had a sudden flashback to a fight with Jonathan.
Oh, shit. Panic froze me where I was. Am I fucking this up the way I fucked that up? Did I just do to Ziggy what Jonathan did to me? I asked him to shack up with me temporarily and it hadn’t even occurred to me it was almost the exact same fucking thing. Because I needed him. Because I wanted him there. And just like me, he said yes.
I remembered that trapped feeling, that hopeless feeling.
Okay, but Ziggy’s actually wearing your ring, and we’ve established pretty well that any suspicions you have that he doesn’t want to be are paranoia and not real. Right?
Right. So then what’s this about?
“I’m sorry,” I said, figuring I should just skip right to the apology. I was done fighting since I didn’t even remember why we started fighting in the first place. Wasn’t I trying to be supportive…? “Ziggy, talk to me.”
He enunciated very clearly. “You don’t get to slap me down at every turn and then try to comfort me.”
“What?” No, really, what–?
“You heard me.”
“Yes, but I didn’t understand. Please, Zig, back up.” I gripped the back of the dining chair he’d been sitting in like that would help me hang on to my sanity. “I need to understand what just happened here.”
He pressed one knuckle against his front teeth but I could still hear him perfectly well. “Why don’t you give me your version of what’s going on, and then I’ll give you my version.” He was still fuming, but at a simmer and not a full boil now.
If I tried to pick my words too carefully I was never going to get a whole sentence out. But I tried to be at least a little careful. “I was under the impression you were having a… moment of doubt. About your career and prospects. And image. And stuff.” He didn’t contradict that so I went on. “So I was trying to be supportive.”
Supportive is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot but up until then I don’t think I actually sat down and dug into what it meant.
“Supportive,” he spat. “I know you mean it. I know you’re not the type to gaslight and lie just to smooth things over. But here’s how it felt to me.” He took a deep breath. “Like no matter what I said, you said ‘you’re wrong.'”
“That’s not because I’m not being supportive; it’s because you were wrong…?” I knew that was the wrong thing to say but I couldn’t keep from defending myself.
“I get that you think that, but are you listening to me? We’re not going to solve the problems of my future career prospects in a grunge-dominated world sitting at the dining room table, so how about instead of a pile of tactical arguments you just give me a shred of sympathy?”
My eyes were wide. My internal argument went something like this: But if we’re not going to solve career problems at the dining room table where the hell are we going to? Hey, career counselor, will you shut up, already? You’re the one who got us into this mess. “You think I don’t sympathize?” I said. Career-counselor Daron added: “I’ve spent the whole year wondering where the fuck my career was going. If anyone can sympathize, it’s me.”
He put his face into his hands for a couple of seconds, shaking his head. Then he looked up. “That’s empathy not sympathy.”
“Please tell me you’re not going to break out the dictionary every time we have a fight.” I wanted to let go of the chair, but I couldn’t. “Or a fight about a fight. Or whatever the fuck this is.”
He bit his knuckle harder and then let his hands drop. “I’m sorry.”
I heard the words but I couldn’t parse them as an apology right away. I thought for sure he meant something like “I’m sorry; I can’t do this anymore” or something equally dire. But no. He just meant he was sorry.
“It’s okay, Daron,” he went on, when I stood there, about to break the chair back with my panic. “Just give me a minute.”
“Okay.” Give him a minute? Was that like calling time-out on the fight and we were going to continue when he was ready? A hum came through the floor: the dishwasher of the apartment below ours.
He shut his eyes. “Shit.”
I couldn’t just stand there silent. “What?”
“Nothing. Just my stupid fucking brain doing stupid fucking things.” When he opened his eyes they were red-rimmed.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
He considered for a moment. “No. I should tell you later when I’m not like this.” He swallowed and took a couple of steps nearer to me.
If I was going to let go of the chair it was going to be to touch him. I promise myself if he took one more step I would.
He took another step. I forced my hands to open, my arms to open.
“I promise I’ll tell you later,” he said, “when I’m not like this.”
I ignored the throbbing in my palm and put my arms around him. I did it gingerly in case “like this” was a synonym for “fragile.”