You may have noticed that not a word was said at the lawyer meeting about any of the other lawsuit stuff hanging over our heads. I wasn’t even sure which ones were real threats and which ones weren’t. You might think if nothing had happened in two years on a case that nothing was every going to happen, right?
But as Feinbaum once explained to me, the courts really had no incentive to hurry, especially on cases where the main stakes were money. The longer they waited, the more likely the parties would settle with each other and then no court date would be needed. Often they’d only get scheduled if the statute of limitations was approaching, which meant that sometimes people came really close to getting away with something before their time in front of a judge.
If I remember right, the statute of limitations on embezzlement was two years if the amount was small, and three years if it was large? Something like that. The penalties also went up as the amount went up. Which I suppose was fair. No one had told me yet what amount of money Digger had embezzled from Sarah, or if they had, I didn’t remember. But my guess was they wouldn’t have bothered if the number didn’t have at least four zeroes, and more likely five.
Carynne took me out for a meal then which I guess was either really late lunch or really early dinner. Maybe it was just an excuse to get out of the office and talk, but we just kind of talked around some subjects without talking about them directly. I think she sensed I was too wrung out to handle much. The city felt familiar and strange at the same time.
The one thing she did ask me head on was, “How’s your mom?”
“Insane and probably driving Flip crazy, too, by now.” We were in a Chinese place in midtown, one of the ones that looked kind of fancy to appeal to the business types, but the food wasn’t any different from takeout. I was picking the cashews out of a plate of chicken and cashews and eating them one by one.
“I mean, you know, health-wise.”
“It’s hard to tell. She’s having these treatments that are supposed to shrink her tumors so they can try to take them out, but basically any time she’s not high, she’s vomiting. Or worse.”
“It is awful.” The cashews were salty and crunchy despite having been tossed in the gravy and for whatever reason I was enjoying eating them by themselves instead of with the chicken and green peppers in the stir fry. I shook my head.
“You don’t think she’s going to make it?”
“I really don’t know. The chances are not great.” I put down my chopsticks so I could take a sip of tea. “I don’t know how to feel about it.”
“Because all of a sudden you’re responsible for her?”
“Because I’m involved with her,” I said. “I’m trying to do the right thing, and she needs someone, and I’m not enough of a jerk to abandon her, am I? At the same time… she tried to split me and Ziggy up because she thought he’d be against her drugging herself into a stupor.”
“He’s not? I mean, why did she think he’d be against that?” Carynne was also not eating much, but maybe too much talk about vomiting can affect the appetite.
“She somehow took the fact that he’s staying drug-free himself to mean that. If I had to guess it’s because if Claire decided not to do drugs, she’d expect everyone around her to stop doing them, too.” I sprinkled some sugar into my tiny chinese teacup and poured some more tea from the porcelain pot. “Come to think of it, that’s exactly why. When Claire quit sugar, the whole family quit sugar. And she thinks that she and Ziggy are alike.”
“In some ways, yeah.” I cupped the tea and the warmth felt good on my hand, which had been stressed by the examination and test exercises as well as by all the picking up of cashews I had done. “I’m just… I don’t know what to do with myself, Car’. I can’t really do anything to help my mother get better. I haven’t touched a guitar in months. I fell off the wagon on my voice exercises. I can count on one hand the number of song ideas I’ve had in the past year. What the hell is wrong with me?”
“It’s just a rough patch is all,” she said. “Look, you and Ziggy are getting along all right, right?”
“Well, I thought it was a bit rocky there for a bit, but once Claire stopped trying to drive a wedge between us, I think it smoothed out again. I mean, he’s the one who came to Tennessee to extract me.”
“You make it sound like a hostage situation.”
“Yeah, except I was both the hostage and the person he had to negotiate with.” I picked up my chopsticks again and started eating one grain of rice at a time. Because I was that kind of obsessive that day, I guess. “Is it that I’m nuts and so I can’t make things happen the way they should in my career? Or is it a million things outside my control stalling my career and making me nuts?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think it’s both. Not really. It’s more the latter thing than the former. The logjam is going to break up eventually, though.” She didn’t directly mention the lawsuits or the stalled projects or Ziggy’s plans for world domination. “When you feel better you’ll feel like writing songs and performing again.”
“But when am I going to feel better? My hand–”
“Is currently picking up individual grains of rice with fancy chopticks. Daron, your dexterity looks fine to me. Total rest was probably what your hand actually needed. That was what your surgeon had recommended, but you went off to South America and toured, for pete’s sake.”
I looked at my scarred palm. “It wasn’t my hand that got done in by the tour so much as my–”
“Stop trying to separate your physical problems from your emotional ones. They’re not separate. You wouldn’t have been so freaked out if you hadn’t been trying to deal with keeping your hand working. You wouldn’t have been drinking so much and you wouldn’t have been insulating yourself with the painkillers.”
I remembered sharply the moment I had realized my “muscle relaxant” was another form of painkiller and how easily I’d been fooling myself.
She went on. “Your body, your mind, your heart, they’re not separate beings. They’re all you. When one part of you is hurting, all of you suffers.”
I flexed my hand.
“I think you’re probably physically over your trauma. You’re just not mentally or emotionally over it. And you won’t be ready to play until you are. And I’d just send you on a retreat with a shrink or something but unfortuantely one of your big emotional traumas is ongoing.”
“With Claire, you mean.”
“Yeah. And it’s one hundred percent ghoulish but I know what would be best for you would be for her to hurry up and die already.”
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“I can’t believe I said it, either. It’s awful. But that doesn’t make it not true.”
The thing that was so shocking about her saying it, of course, is that it’s what I’d been thinking, deep down, for a while. “And what if she doesn’t die? What if she beats the odds? Or has a struggle that goes on for two years before she succumbs or something like that?”
“That’s just what I was about to ask you,” Carynne said. She poured some more tea for each of us. “You have to find a way to not be so emotionally wrapped up in her and what’s going on with her. You should have heard Ziggy going on about it. He regrets so hard ever convincing you to go see her.”
“Well, I don’t regret it, exactly. I mean, I didn’t expect to ever have a relationship with her and I guess I have one now?”
“But is that a good thing?”
“She’s my mother…?”
“And? Is this another, like, ‘society approves of this thing so it must be good’ kind of idea? Because I’m pretty sure your mother makes my mother, who is a toxic bitch, seem like a sweetheart.” She huffed. “You know I cut off contact with my mother, right?”
“You talked about it but I didn’t know if you did it.”
“I did it. When I changed my Boston phone numbers to New York, I never gave her the new ones. I wrote her a letter saying I did it intentionally and if she actually loved me and respected me as a person she would not attempt any contact for five years. So far, she’s held up.”
We clinked teacups and then she went on. “So here’s what I’m saying. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a relationship with your mother if you really want to. But you have to put yourself first. You have to have some self-preservation instinct. And if she’s the type to freak out and call you a traitor for trying to preserve your own sanity, then you have to be prepared for the fact she’s going to do that.”
I felt a little ill and a sip of sweetened tea didn’t help. “That’s exactly what she’ll do. You should hear the rants she goes on about my sisters.”
“She probabaly doesn’t even appreciate that Janine took her in and kept a roof over her head and fed her for all that time before she got fed up and threw her out. Does she?”
“No. And I hear you. She probably doesn’t appreciate Remo or me for footing her bills or setting her up in the cabin she wanted and getting her the drugs she wanted, either.” When I wasn’t with her, it was easier to see how she’d manipulated me, and easier to admit. “But she doesn’t have anyone else. And I just can’t be that kind of jerk who abandons her.”
“Okay, and we love you for it, but tell me again why it’s you and not Remo who has to put your life on hold to babysit her?”
“Mel was going to leave him and take the baby if he didn’t break away from Claire.”
“And that’s your responsibility… why?”
When she put it that way, I couldn’t come up with an answer. “I felt like… it… made sense? For me to step in and for him to step out?” A shiver ran down my back. Did I only feel that way because Claire manipulated my feelings?
She pressed: “Why, because the heterosexual couple with the child should take priority over the gay couple and their careers?”
“What? No. Nothing like tha–” But a nagging thought popped up in the back of my head. I brought it forward to look at it. “Okay, look. This isn’t about heterosexual versus homosexual and it isn’t about society programming us to love our parents or whatever. I take being Ford’s godfather really seriously. I want what’s best for him. When I was growing up, there was no adult in my life who put my needs in front of theirs.”
“No. When push came to shove, Remo protected himself and his career over me. Which is why I was so pissed off at him for so long. I mean, maybe there was no real choice he could make, plus the fact that I was not his kid–”
“Okay, you’re right. So there was no adult who ever put you first. So?”
“So someone’s got to be that for Ford. Someone’s got to make his parents see sense and keep them together. That’s me.”
Carynne’s mouth hung open slightly. The restaurant was mostly empty around us, the lunch crowd being long gone and the dinner rush not started yet. She finally said, “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
“Here’s the thing. I know Remo’s willing to toss millions of dollars out the window to be there for Ford. His whole surprise announcement that Nomad is quitting touring? That’s why. It’s so he won’t be an absentee dad. But that only works if he’s there with Mel and not hand-holding with Claire.”
“And he didn’t put you up to this or anything.” Carynne sighed. “I can tell this is all your idea.”
She flipped the lid on the teapot to signal the waiter for more. I guess she thought we were going to be there a while. “Okay, so Remo’s out of the picture. Have you even talked to your other sisters again about sharing the responsibility of taking care of your mom?”
She was right. We were going to be there for a while.
(I swear we used this song earlier, but it charted in March 1992 so maybe that was in a liner note or something? -d)