By the time we finally saw her, Claire was doped up on post-surgery meds and feeling no pain. Her smile when she saw me and Courtney was huge, and she threw open her arms like she could hug us from the hospital bed, but she was reclined back and there were tubes in her arms and equipment in the way, so all I could do was take one of her hands and squeeze it.
She squeezed back and then nodded off. I’ll be honest. I thought for half a second maybe she had expired, but the monitors that showed her pulse and stuff kept on beeping, and if I watched for a couple of seconds I could see she was breathing.
Wouldn’t it be something, though, I thought, if she could go just like that? Isn’t that what people imagine is the best? Feeling no pain, surrounded by people who love you, and just… go?
Of course when you imagine that scenario, you usually imagine an old person who has lived a long and full life. Someone who has fulfilled their dreams. We sat down in silence around her and my thoughts ran off on this morbid topic for quite a while. If I got struck with a terminal illness that day, would I make peace with my end?
Truth be told I had fulfilled a lot of my dreams. I had been around the world doing what I loved. I’d made money. I’d made the Top 40. I’d made friends.
But I wouldn’t want to leave Ziggy, when it really felt like we were just getting started. The ring on my finger felt warm. And I had so much unfinished business. Not emotional business so much as business-business. It’d be hard to accept a fate like that, of knowing my time on earth was done.
Claire hadn’t really talked about her own illness in those terms to me. But I had to wonder. Her dreams hadn’t been fulfilled. Her marriages hadn’t lasted. And some of her kids weren’t speaking to her. If that had been me, if I sat around thinking about that for days on end, the feeling of failure and frustration would probably eat me alive from the inside.
Which was probably why Claire’s preferred state of mind was to be high as a kite on hashish. Sure, the relief from nausea was a big part of that, but I realized that if I had the choice to drug myself into ignoring reality, I’d do it.
Hell, I had already done it. Maybe not as consciously as Claire, who had nudged the people around her (me, mostly) into setting her up with a constant drug supply and a quiet, out of the way place to use them, but there’s no doubt that in South America I had slowly nudged everyone around me into letting me lose my mind.
The ice water in my veins surged again. The people around me in charge of my well-being had really let me do that. Because you know what? They weren’t in charge of my well-being. I was. So they listened to me and believed me when I said I was fine or that what I needed was to dig the hole a little deeper.
Until I was down a well and about to drown. If it weren’t for Ziggy, and the gold ring on my finger acting like a life preserver, would I have eventually hauled myself out? I decided I didn’t want to think about that. I preferred to think about the fact that he had hauled me out. Maybe I’d done the same for him here and there, too. By being partnered, by being connected, it was like the emotional equivalent of having a swim buddy or maybe a mountain climbing partner attached to the end of your rope.
If love is one of the great mysteries of life, I felt maybe I understood it a little better then than I had even a year before. This thing that Ziggy and I felt, this thing that couldn’t be seen or measured, that you could even say was just a figment of our imaginations or a delusion, was a force so strong that we changed the courses of our lives to be together.
Ziggy would have already been in Japan on tour–he might have even been there right then–if he hadn’t taken the time to move back to Boston with me to get my head back together.
And that’s where we would have been right then if I hadn’t been here in Tennessee for Claire. So. Was I here out of an oversized sense of obligation? Or because, whether I admitted it or not, I loved her?
And wasn’t even thinking about it basically the same thing as admitting it, since love was a thing that only existed in our minds/hearts? I felt almost like I wanted to cry, except I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone there, plus we were just sitting there listening to the machines beep and there didn’t seem to be a reason for it… whatever. It was kind of like when you feel a little sick to your stomach but you really aren’t ready to puke yet. I wasn’t ready to cry yet.
Then I got thinking about Jordan. Yeah, we were sitting there for a really long time.
Eventually she woke up again, though, and a couple of nurses checked on her for various things, taking her temperature, changing her IV, and so on. Remo asked them when we’d be able to talk to her doctor and they told him they’d check.
I don’t really remember much about the few days that followed that. There was so much sitting around just waiting to find out about this or that. I learned some curious things, like the fact they didn’t want to give her opioids because they tend to make you constipated and the point now was to get her digestion working properly again. It was going to be a slow progression, from IV fluids only, to sips of clear fluids through her mouth, to eventually a “liquid diet” (not a euphemism), and then if that all went without hangups, on to small amounts of very soft foods, etc. Another curious fact: a fart was a reason to rejoice.
I know. Medical stuff is weird.
Anyway, at some point in those first couple of days after I got back to Tennessee, Flip and I had a conversation. This was in the RV, back at the house. Or maybe in the hospital parking lot. I’m not sure.
“You know,” I said, “I’m still a little fucked up about everything in South America. But I’m starting to feel better about it. I mean, I’m starting to understand it a little more.”
And Flip said, “Yeah, so you said.”
“Yeah, we talked about this already. But go on.”
“Okay, now I’m curious if I think the same thing as I thought before.”
“I’ll let you know,” he assured me.
“I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine. I mean, I’m the one who convinced you it would be fine to keep edging the dosage upward and all that.”
“So you’re chalking it up as a learning experience.”
“I still feel kinda guilty that I didn’t see the red flags and do something sooner,” he said, and I realized he had said it before, so I guess we really did talk about it previously. But it takes a while and multiple tries to get some stuff to sink in, I guess. “Is it weird seeing your mom so drugged up, then?”
“Well, I mean, she’s got a good reason for it.”
“You also had a good reason for it,” Flip reminded me. “How’s it doing, by the way? Your hand, I mean, not your–” He made circular motions in the air around his ears with his fingers.
I flexed my hand. “Everything basically works. They said I was super lucky. The knife basically got me right here–”
He looked away quickly, holding up his hands to block the view, as well. “Toooo much information. I know. You thought I’d never say that. I’m not squeamish about people puking up blood, but, ugh. Not that.”
“Okay. Anyway, the upshot is I’m physically intact and don’t seem to have any damaged nerves or tendons or what have you. I’m rubbing a cream into it now to break up the scar tissue and there you go.”
“Badda-bing, badda-boom. You going on the road again soon?”
“I don’t know about that.” I tried to drag to subject back to the psychological and emotional stuff, which is what I was actually talking about. “I want you to know I don’t blame you for what happened in South America and I really appreciate you jumping in to help my mom like this.”
“Aw, D. That’s what friends are for.”
“Okay, I just felt that procuring drugs for a friend’s mother while she suffers from cancer, as well as babysitting her 24-7, is above and beyond a typical friend thing, and I really, really appreciate that.”
Flip patted me on the shoulder and told me the following: “You are far from typical, my friend. And you are far from a typical friend.”
I told him likewise. I think we hugged. I still didn’t cry.