I woke up on the morning of February 22, 1992, having completed 24 revolutions around the sun. Actual birds were singing and Ziggy was in my arms. (He didn’t have much choice: the bed was not large.)
It should have been idyllic. I lay still, waiting for my anxiety to float away so I could start enjoying the moment. I mean, some part of me was enjoying the moment, but I’d say over half of me was just undeniably anxious.
It was the kind of anxious that made me want to stay in bed, though, not jump up and do something. So I lay there, trying to pin my feelings on something specific but not really settling on anything.
Ziggy squirmed against me and made an inquisitive noise.
“I’m awake, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He lifted his head. “Mm. But is anyone else?”
“Birds, yes, people, no, from the sound of things.” I ran a hand down his bare back, his skin soft and smooth. “Claire doesn’t know you’re here.”
“You think I should sneak out and come back in?”
“How’d you get here, anyway?”
He didn’t answer the question. “I told you I was coming as soon as I could get away.”
I didn’t ask it again. “How’s everyone in New York?”
“You’ll see them soon enough if you keep your promise.”
I swallowed a lump of dread. “Yeah.”
He examined my face like he was about to ask me what was wrong, but he didn’t ask, and I couldn’t have answered anyway. “So should I sneak out and come back in?”
“You could just get dressed and act like you showed up this morning if she’s not–” I broke off as I heard the screen door creak, and then the front door open. Booted feet crossed the bungalow floor. That had to be Flip. “Since she’s still in bed.”
“I should really shower before I put my clothes on,” he pointed out. “Does it matter that I spent the night in your bed? We’re not sixteen. And it’s not like she doesn’t know about us. Why are you making this out to be a big deal?”
“I just didn’t want her to be startled is all.” Right? I kissed him on the hair. “There’s literally only room for one at a time in the shower here.” It was a bit rustic, shall we say. At least it was indoors–just barely. “You want to go first? Take one of my towels.”
“Sure.” He climbed out of the bed and tiptoed exaggeratedly to the door, on the back of which were hanging two blue-gray towels on hooks. He wrapped one around his rather slim waist and slipped out.
There was a slapping sound. I think it was Ziggy and Flip high-fiving each other. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, my mind as blank as a TV channel back when they used to go off the air and just as full of static.
When Ziggy came back he was as slim-hipped and sly as ever, just damp. I sat up as he drew near. There was a red scratch on the back of his upper arm.
I reached for it. “What’s that?”
“Hm?” He craned his neck to look at it. “Think you did that last night.”
He nodded. “Exhibit A in today’s proof you’re not yourself.”
“Because I forgot I scratched you?”
“Because you forgot to trim your nails in the first place.” He took my hands in his but didn’t look at them, just held them. I knew he was right. My nails were a wreck. The left, which I normally kept short, were overlong and perhaps had some sharp edges, while the right, which I used to keep long and polished so I could play with them, I had trimmed down during hand rehab. Which I hadn’t done in months.
“They’re not that bad,” I heard myself trying to argue. Quietly. Since the wall was very very thin between the room we were in and Claire’s. No sheetrock or plaster, just thin boards.
“For someone else, they might be normal. For you, they’re not,” he insisted. He was looking me in the eye, looking down. “This isn’t about Claire dying. This is about you.”
“What’s about me?”
“This conversation.” He squeezed my fingers and although it didn’t hurt at all, I tensed. “Tell me I have no reason to worry about you. That you’re not on the verge of climbing into a water tank.”
I swallowed. “I’m not doing great, but I’m not that ba–” I stopped myself, realizing it was the second time within ten seconds I’d tried to say basically the same thing and it was a lie both times. “Okay. I don’t know what’s going on with me, but isn’t it reasonable for me to be a little fucked up between Jordan dying, Claire, and everything else?”
“That’s like saying of course you caught a cold after getting soaked in the winter. But then you deal with it. You don’t just ignore it. Or it gets worse instead of better.”
“I appreciate you trying to take care of me, Zig. I really do, but…” But I couldn’t think of what came after the “but.”
“You promised me you’re coming back with me to the city for at least a week,” he reminded me. “If you want me to shut up about it until it’s time to leave, I will. But it’s hard to watch you doing this to yourself.”
“Retreating into your shell so far that you’re not taking care of yourself.”
I have to admit, “retreating into me shell” sounded pretty spot on. “Yeah, okay.”
“Your turn to shower,” he said, which seemed to validate what he meant, somehow.
I took the towel he had used and the other one from the back of the door and got into the tiny shower stall built against the far wall of the bungalow. It was kind of like showering in a high school athletic locker, it was so narrow. When I was done I wrapped the damp towel around my head and used the other to dry myself off. If I didn’t wrap my wet hair, it would be impossible to dry the rest of me, which was why I needed two towels.
Flip had made coffee and toast. He and Ziggy had some while I got dressed. I opened the back door. It felt like a warmer day than yesterday. Some days it was like 60 degrees but it would get back down into the thirties every night. That day, though, it felt like it was well past 60 already. I sat down on the back porch and looked at the trees.
Flip brought me a mug of coffee with sugar and milk and a piece of buttered toast. Then Ziggy came and sat down next to me. I’d finished the coffee but only managed half the toast. It’s not like I hadn’t eaten plenty the night before.
“If you’re not going to eat that, you should give it to something that will,” he said.
“You want it?”
“No, but maybe some birds will?”
“Good idea. Let’s go for a walk in the woods.”
I put my denim jacket on but I barely felt like I needed it. I led him through the woods toward the lake.
About halfway there he said, “Okay, all this silence is making me paranoid. Are you happy to see me?”
“What?” I turned and caught him in a half-hug. “Of course I’m happy to see you.”
“You just don’t seem very happy is all.”
“I don’t have to be happy to be happy to see you,” I said, then played the words back to myself and tried to make sense of them. “I mean, I’m happy about seeing you despite being, as you pointed out, pretty damn miserable.” My breath suddenly got stuck in my chest. Like admitting it made it hurt more. That would be why one doesn’t admit it, right there.
He turned the half-hug into a full one. Pine-needles crunched under our feet. “It’s been incredibly hard being without you.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m just… I’m just scared to death, though.”
“I don’t even know.”
“Is this about lawsuit stuff? You know they aren’t going to just jump out of the bushes and drag you into a courtroom, you know.”
“I know.” Although it sounded like maybe they could if I was being served with blame for Digger embezzling from Sarah… but I didn’t try to make it make sense. “But it’s so hard.”
“What’s so hard?”
“Everything. Not knowing what’s going to happen. With my career. Or even my playing. Or us. Musically, I mean. But that’s a big part of us.” My heart flipflopped in my chest while I tried to breathe between sentence fragments. “Jordan being gone makes it even worse.”
Once I started saying the things I couldn’t say before, I found I couldn’t stop. “I’m terrified of having no control over it. I’m terrified I made the wrong choices and I’ll never make up for it. I’m terrified I’m not relevant anymore, that an entire genre of music has risen up and swamped over any statement I was trying to make. I’m terrified I’ll never be able to play like I did and that even if I get my chops back, what for?”
Clinging to him in the middle of the trees, I forgot I was still holding half a piece of toast. “I’m terrified it’s my fault Remo can’t be happy. I’m terrified Claire dying is going to fuck me up even worse than I already am. And that’s on top of the usual fears that we’re going to wreck each other.”
“It’s hard,” he agreed, and let me cry on his shoulder, until I was tired of crying and remembered the toast. Without speaking, I led him to the edge of the pond. And although no ducks came to eat the bits of toast I threw into the water, some kind of fish seemed to like it perfectly well, gulping it down with dark mouths.
(There are times when I think Melissa Etheridge and Tommy Shaw must’ve been separated at birth. Also, check out the ovation she plays in this video -d)